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Trails and Wildlife Checklist

BY PAUL HELLMUND

From Planning Trails with Wildlife in Mind: A Handbook for Trail Planners
Colorado State Trails Program -- Stuart H. Macdonald, State Trails Coordinator

March 1, 1999

One of the goals of Planning Trails with Wildlife in Mind: a Handbook for Trail Planners is to provide a model for evaluating trail projects. The result is a "Trails and Wildlife Checklist," a step-by-step procedure which includes all the issues discussed in the Handbook.

A. Getting the whole picture

1. Including wildlife in the trail vision

-- Look at the broader landscape.

  • What opportunities or constraints are there for trails and wildlife in the broader landscape?
  • What plans are there for other trails or wildlife across the landscape?
  • In general, what kinds of landscapes will the trail pass through?
  • Would any be areas that currently have no trails and little human modification?
  • Do you foresee any cumulative trail impacts by adding a new trail?

-- Develop preliminary goals for the project.

  • What activities do you foresee for the trail?
  • What are your wildlife goals for the project?

-- Develop initial trail concepts.

  • What destinations, users, and activities do you foresee for the trail?

-- Keep wildlife concerns within the focus of the project vision.

  • Are there biologists or other professionals available to advise you on wildlife and trails concerns?

-- Look for opportunities to coordinate your trail project with conservation and open space projects.

  • Are there opportunities to coordinate habitat restoration, protection, or acquisition with the trail project?
  • Where?

2. Organizing & communicating

-- Create a profile of the kinds of users who are likely to use the trail.

  • What are likely levels and seasons of use?
  • Are there organizations that would be interested in the trail project?
  • Would any help monitor the trail area for wildlife issues?

-- Identify the groups interested in wildlife in your trail area.

  • What wildlife and conservation organizations would be interested to know of your trail project?
  • Would any help monitor the trail area for wildlife issues?

-- Share your ideas and findings with other community members, including both trails and wildlife enthusiasts, property owners, and land managers.

  • Which people and organizations would feel strongly for or against the project?
  • How can you inform and involve them?

-- Meet with agency planners.

  • Are there local land-use planners, or federal or state resource planners who understand the broader context of the area where you are considering a trail?
  • Is there an area-wide land-use, open space, or trails plan?
  • If the trail might cross federal land, is there an existing management plan?
  • Is your trail concept consistent with these plans?

-- Start a public discussion of the trail and its implications for wildlife.

  • What are the best ways to reach the various groups interested in your trail&emdash; community meetings, field trips, a web site?
  • What are the wildlife issues that must be addressed in planning the trail?
  • Do the ideas you hear seem to complement or conflict?

-- Determine the physical extent of the project.

  • Over what area might the trail extend?
  • What elevations?

-- Conduct a preliminary biological inventory.

  • What are the area's sensitive plants, animals, and wildlife habitats?
  • Are there any special opportunities for wildlife education?
  • How impacted already are wildlife in the area?
  • How much modified is the area&emdash;is it urban, suburban, agricultural, pristine?

-- Determine the habitat/ecosystem types present in the area of the proposed trail and the potential species or communities of special concern.

  • What do the Colorado Natural Diversity Information Source and other databases indicate are likely species or communities of special interest in the area?

-- Draw inferences from scientific studies done in similar habitats or with similar wildlife species.

  • Does the Colorado State Parks wildlife/trails bibliographic data base include any such relevant references?

-- Learn from others who have completed projects with similar wildlife issues.

  • Are there others with similar wildlife issues or similar environments?
  • What lessons can you draw from the experiences of others?

-- Review data found to date and conduct a site visit with a wildlife biologist or other scientists to identify potential wildlife opportunities and constraints.

  • Are there areas to avoid because of resource sensitivity or areas to consider because of restoration potential or lower sensitivity?
  • Which areas would provide the most interesting route and have the least impact on wildlife?
  • Are there special opportunities for wildlife education?

-- Identify seasons of special concern for the important wildlife species or communities.

  • Are there times of year, such as elk calving or eagle nesting season, that are very sensitive to disturbance from people?
  • Are there alternatives for the trail away from such areas?
  • Would seasonal closures of a trail near such areas be workable?

-- Identify important plants in the area.

  • Are there any sensitive plant species or communities in the area?
  • Are there ways to present these communities to trail users without disturbing sensitive species?

-- Evaluate the extent of existing impacts to wildlife and the landscape. What are the existing impacts to wildlife

  • How much have humans already modified the area?
  • Is the area primarily natural, managed, cultivated, suburban, or urban?
  • Will the trail provide access to backcountry or areas that have never had trails before?
  • How can you minimize the trail's contribution to habitat fragmentation?

-- Take a step back.

  • Given what you have learned to this point, how well do you think this project will fit into its larger ecological context?

-- Formalize the project goals.

  • How would you revise the preliminary project goals based on what has been learned?
  • What do members of the public and others think of the project goals?

B. Considering Alternative Alignments

1. Preparing and evaluating alternatives

-- Create distinctive alternative plans.

  • With this handbook's rules of thumb as a guide, develop alternative plans that maximize the opportunities and minimize the constraints for wildlife.
  • Look especially for opportunities to coordinate the restoration of degraded habitats.
  • Get professional help preparing and evaluating alternatives, if possible.
  • Where an existing trail is to be improved, alternatives might include different management strategies.

-- Consider alternatives for trailheads and other support facilities.

  • Sites for trailheads and parking areas are sometime overlooked in evaluating wildlife impacts of trails. They need careful design and review.

-- Evaluate the alternatives.

  • Conduct an internal evaluation of the alternatives using the goals set earlier.

-- Ask others to help evaluate the alternatives.

  • Conduct an external evaluation of the alternatives with wildlife biologists or other agency personnel, public, environmental groups, landowners, land managers, and others, as appropriate.
  • Summarize the pros and cons of each alternative.

-- Select a preferred plan.

  • Review the comments made during the evaluation process.
  • Select one of the alternatives or create a hybrid plan incorporating the best qualities of two or more plans.

2. Designing the trail

-- Refine the selected plan.

  • Develop site designs, budgets, and timetables.

-- Develop management strategies.

  • Consider how the trail will be managed, maintained, and monitored.

-- Develop an environmental education/ interpretation plan.

The plan should explain how to communicate to trail users the specific wildlife issues of this trail.

-- Develop a volunteer plan.

  • Outline support tasks for involving volunteers in monitoring or managing wildlife.

-- Conduct a final review of the plan and its components.

  • Review the final plan with a wildlife biologist and other specialists to make certain all the parts went together in ways that support wildlife.

C. Building and Managing the Trail

1. Acquiring and constructing the trail

-- Look for opportunities for complementary conservation.

  • In acquiring the land needed for the trail, look for additional areas that can be set aside for wildlife conservation at the same time.
  • Also look for the partners to help implement such efforts.

-- Implement the plan.

  • Be careful to impact wildlife as little as possible during construction.

-- Communicate to all interested parties.

  • Share the progress about the trail and what is being learned about co-existing with wildlife.

2. Monitoring and managing the trail

-- Manage the trail.

  • Implement the plan to manage the trail corridor and activities within it.

-- Monitor the trail environment.

  • Using staff or volunteers, monitor the important plants and wildlife of the alignment, looking for impacts. Adjust management plans as appropriate.

-- Communicate to all interested parties.

  • Share the progress about the trail and what is being learned about co-existing with wildlife.

Please send suggestions or new links and resources on Trails and Wildlife issues to Stuart Macdonald at MacTrail@aol.com.

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