This story is in the beginning appeared inside High Country News and is part of Climate Desk agreement.
The first flashy video shows a black bear bursting out of camera frames. In some places, the antelope stops eating wild flowers, turns back, and takes off in another direction. In the third episode, the moose does not move at all but stands there, alert.
All three animals were exposed to boom boxes in the forest, part of a study testing the effects of outdoor recreation noise on wildlife. The sounds included people chatting, mountain bikers crossing the roads, and even a quiet waterfall. Each video lasted less than 90 minutes.
The new study, conducted in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest, adds to growing evidence that the sound of human voices, no matter how loud or quiet, fast or slow, changes the behavior of animals.
Don’t start feeling guilty about going for a walk right now. Researchers are also trying to understand the meaning of those behaviors. For some species, hikers and bikers can be a sideshow in a forest full of natural distractions. For others, hobbyists can have the same effect as dangerous predators, destroying habitats where food can be found, causing low birth rates and early deaths.
“The whole point of this study is not to disparage recreationists,” said Mark Ditmer, an ecologist at the US Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station and one of the study’s leaders. “It’s understanding where and when we cause the most confusion.”
The idea that we should know and love abroad that security has been in control for over a hundred years. Recreation built a district that helped protect the wilderness. But even a few decades ago, there was evidence that using the wilderness—even if it was just a place for people to play—as a public playground did a lot of collateral damage. Roads through wood without ribs or reason; used toilet paper sticks to the bush in the background. Groups like Leave No Trace started reminding people to pick up their trash, leave wildlife alone, and practice proper sanitation.
However, “light recreation,” a generic term for enjoying the outdoors without hunting or fishing, is often considered the best. Well, outdoor recreation connects people to the land and sometimes motivates them to protect it—drafting lawmakers, attending land-use meetings, supporting advocacy groups, perhaps reminding others not to walk on the trails. Too bad, it seems harmless.
But recent research suggests otherwise. There’s one in Vail, Colorado, which shows that the number of trails used by hikers and mountain bikers disrupts cows that produce fewer calves. Another game reserve in Grand Teton National Park showed that water skiers terrorized bighorn sheep during the winter when food was scarce, with fatal results. A 2016 review of 274 articles on the effects of outdoor recreation on wildlife found that 59 percent of the findings were wrong.
But many studies have looked at the effects of random encounters with hikers, skiers, and others. Few have questioned what actually causes people to harass wild animals, whether it is the way we look, the way we smell, or the way we feel.