New Study: Outdoor Recreation Noise Affects Wildlife Behavior and Habitat Use


We may go to the woods seeking peace and quiet, but are we taking our noise with us? 

We may go to the woods seeking peace and quiet, but are we taking our noise with us? A recent study published in the journal, Current Biology, led by scientists from the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station indicates that the answer is yes—and that this noise can trigger a fear response, as if escaping from predators. This new science calls into question whether otherwise high-quality habitat truly provides refugia for wildlife when recreationists are present and underscores the challenges land managers face in balancing outdoor recreational opportunities with wildlife conservation.

"Wildlife responses to recreation noise are often unobservable, and it was a fun research challenge,” said Dr. Kathy Zeller, lead author of the study. “Our study is the first to quantify responses to human-produced recreation noise based on recreation type, group size, group vocalizations, and wildlife species. Information like this can help managers balance recreation opportunities with wildlife management, which is critical as outdoor recreation continues to grow in popularity.”

The study was conducted in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming. Researchers used a novel experimental setup to isolate and investigate the effects of recreation noise on several mammal species. Scientists placed wildlife cameras and speakers on wildlife trails throughout the study areas. Animals that entered study areas triggered speakers to broadcast different types of noise, and nearby cameras captured video of the animals’ behavioral responses to the sounds. The broadcasted noises were associated with different types of recreation such as hiking, mountain biking, and off highway vehicle use, as well as different-sized groups, and both with and without human voices. This setup allowed the researchers to observe both the immediate responses in animal behavior to recreation noise and changes in wildlife presence at the study areas. Scientists analyzed the video footage and compared how wildlife responded to various recreation noises as well as nature sounds and periods without any broadcasted noise.

Read more at USDA Forest Service - Rocky Mountain Research Station

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