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Planning Trails with Wildlife in Mind

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By understanding the relative quality of riparian areas, it may be possible to find places within the riparian zone for trails that will have less impact on wildlife.


F. Species and places of special interest

Wildlife and Trails Primer - Key Concepts and Rules of Thumb




While some species (such as bald eagle and Ute ladies-tresses orchids) and habitats (such as wetlands) have legal status that must be respected in the process of trail building, others may deserve special attention because of the value placed on them by a local community.

photo of trail through giant cactus

Every ecological zone has species of plants and animals
that deserve special attention by trail builders

Threatened and endangered are legal designations applied to certain species of plants and animals perceived to be in danger of potentially becoming extinct, either in the world, country, or state.

Taking the state of Colorado as an example, there are two lists of threatened or endangered (T&E) species. One is issued by the federal government, the other by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The federal T&E list includes species that are in danger of becoming extinct nationally. The Endangered Species Act, which provides some protection for these species, is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Some wetlands are protected by federal legislation. Special (404) permitting is required before they can be disturbed (see "Wetlands Permits" below).

Other specially designated areas to take note of include:

• proposed wilderness study areas
• wilderness areas
• inventoried roadless areas
• USDA Forest Service research natural areas and areas with a prescription emphasizing wildlife, flora, fauna, or ecological values
• BLM areas of critical environmental concern
• wild and scenic rivers
• State Natural Areas,
• significant archeological sites, and
• other officially protected areas.

Extra care and research should be taken when proposing a trail in any of these areas or in areas that may be of local concern. Contact your State Trails Program for information on regulations and policies that may affect plans for trail construction in various kinds of habitats or where certain species may be affected. Most states will have a checklist of environmental regulations as part of the state trail grants program.



F.1 Avoiding sensitive areas.
Generally avoid specific areas where there are known species, populations, or communities of special interest and where potential impacts of a trail are uncertain. This is especially true of breeding sites of big game and raptors.

F.2 Spur trails.
When it is appropriate to provide access to a more sensitive area, use a spur (i.e., dead-end) trail instead of a through trail because spur trails tend to have lower volumes of traffic. This is because, given a choice, people tend to stay on a through path rather than take a spur.

F.3 Expert advice.
Check with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Colorado Division of Wildlife about special species and places. Check with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding impacts to wetlands.


Where to start an environmental review

See the Information, Planning, and Conservation (IPaC) decision support system website at According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, this is "a conservation planning tool for streamlining the environmental review process. It provides you, our partners, with the ability to explore the landscape and help you to site your projects in a way that minimizes conflicts with natural resources. With IPaC's landscape explorer tool, you can view wetlands, GAP land cover, USFWS critical habitat, and other natural resource map layers. Through IPaC, you can get a preliminary USFWS species list, and in many locations across the U.S., a USFWS Official Species list. Available, too, are links to species life history information, the USFWS Migratory Bird program, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act information, and more."


Species of Concern

The degree to which the law protects species on the list is complicated and varies depending on the individual species. It is best to discuss specific situations with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) personnel. If your project includes a federal action, permit, or funding and will impact a federally listed species, you must contact the USFWS for what is known as a Section 7 consultation.

The State of Colorado T&E list includes species that are in danger of becoming extinct in Colorado, but not necessarily in the country. Almost all species on the Federal list are on the Colorado list, but the Colorado list includes several species that are common elsewhere in the country, but rare in this state.

Colorado also has a Species Of Concern list which includes Amphibians, Birds, Fish, Mammals, Reptiles, and Mollusks. Colorado law gives no protection to the habitat of species on the state list, but provides for increased penalties for directly killing such animals.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife administers the law, and its personnel— either the district wildlife manager or the habitat biologist in a region— should be contacted with questions about state-listed species. (For a copy of the complete list, visit the Division of Wildlife’s website: or request a free copy of the brochure: “Non-game Wildlife Regulations” from: Colorado Division of Wildlife, Order Fulfillment Center, 6060 Broadway, Denver, CO 80216.) The Division of Wildlife only offers advice and does not approve or reject projects.



Before you disturb a wet area to build a trail or a bridge, you should determine if you will need a wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The federal government defines a wetland as an area with saturated soil in low depressions, secondary stream channels, or in areas that “appear to feel wet.” In most cases, wetlands created by people are subject to the same protection as naturally occurring wetlands. Wetlands regulations include filling, draining, excavating, and flooding.

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged and fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. There are two basic types of 404 permits issued by the Army Corps, individual and general. An individual permit is usually required for potentially significant impacts. However, for most discharges that will have only minimal adverse effects, the Army Corps often grants general permits. These may be issued on a nationwide, regional, or statewide basis for particular categories of activities (e.g., minor road crossings, utility line backfill and bedding) in order to expedite the permitting process.

When applying for a permit you must show that you are in compliance with the EPA §404b(1) guidelines. These include:
1) avoiding wetland impacts where practicable,
2) minimizing potential impacts to wetlands, and
3) providing compensation for any remaining unavoidable impacts through activities to restore or create wetlands.

Other permit application requirements include a §401 Water Quality Certification from the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Board. If threatened or endangered species may be affected by the proposed activity, the Army Corps will consult with the appropriate Federal agency (e.g., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) to obtain a biological opinion on the affects to the species.

For more information:

EPA’s Wetlands Website:

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act:

US Army Corps of Engineers North American Digital Flora: National Wetlands Plant List

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wetland Delineation Manual: download 143-page manual (PDF 1.3 mb)

2012 revised nationwide permits necessary for work in streams, wetlands and other waters:


Further reading and online resources

[Older publications may be available from libraries and used booksellers. Titles with links may still be in print, or are available in electronic format.]

In general there is considerable information available for individual species and specially designated areas.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Act Document Library:

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