The newly established Pilot Hill Recreation Area opened late last year for non-motorized recreation. More recently, the Pilot Hill Wildlife Habitat Management Area opened May 1.
The 5,500-acre parcel is managed by the nonprofit Pilot Hill Inc. and provides a natural laboratory for researchers interested in the effects of non-motorized recreation on wildlife.
"We have a really unique opportunity to look at this system before, during, and as recreation is developed to see what those impacts are going to be over a longitudinal time frame, which is not something we get to do very often in the field," said Abby Sisneros-Kidd, an assistant professor of outdoor recreation and tourism management at the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming.
Sisneros-Kidd has teamed up with Joe Holbrook, an assistant professor of carnivore and habitat ecology, and Drew Bennett, a professor of practice in the Whitney MacMillan Private Lands Stewardship Program to monitor how the movement of wildlife across the landscape is impacted by recreation. The researchers will use game cameras in both sections of the property to collect data from areas with different levels of use. They already have 44 installed across the eastern end.
"Those will capture as wildlife move across the frame of the camera. We'll be able to see what wildlife are on the property and currently utilizing the property. And those will stay up throughout the longitudinal study, so we'll be able to see over time if there are changes in different species utilizing different areas," said Sisneros-Kidd.
There will be more cameras installed on an adjacent piece of private land as a control. The research team isn't just using trail camera photos though. They will be combining it with recreation and use data from visitors to the parcel.
"We have trail counters that are going to be going out onto the property starting here soon. Those will be able to give us kind of an overall volume of use at different entrance points to the property," said Sisneros-Kidd. "Then as recreation is further developed [and] we actually have a trail system in place, which should happen this summer, we'll use some GPS-based tracking of people. We do that with GPS units and just ask people to carry them with them while they're recreating."
Visitor use surveys will be the last piece of data that will give researchers insight into what's happening on the property. The study is intended to last for three to five years, but according to Sisneros-Kidd, it could continue longer if it has the funding.
"The duration of the study is what makes it unique, the ability to really capture these trends and changes over time. And the recreation, wildlife interaction literature is somewhat spotty. There's been work that's been done, but it varies by geographic location and by species, so it's really hard to come to general conclusions about how recreation impacts wildlife. Oftentimes, it's really place specific," said Sisneros-Kidd. "So this will definitely inform how we can manage Pilot Hill and the areas here that we are interested in. But we're also hoping that we can provide some broader generalizations about generally in this type of an environment, how recreation is impacting wildlife."
There is currently a YouFund campaign for the project and any money raised will go toward funding for the first year.
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