Access, Trails and Transportation
Sound management of access and transportation is needed for the sustainable development of the area’s abundant resources. The first part of this section addresses access management; the second part, trails, and the third, transportation.
A study was conducted in Alberta to determine the effects of roads on the demography of grizzly bears. Grizzly bear populations are heavily impacted by road access into their habitat. It was the aim of the study to determine the direct effects roads have on grizzly bears. The roads used in this project were mostly resource-based gravel roads in the province of Alberta. The data used in this project was from another larger study conducted with collared bears. Survival and reproductive rate estimates were determined and a demographic model was created resulting in a road density threshold estimate.
In total, 142 monitored bears were used in the study, with 22 occurred mortalities in the group. Out of those mortalities, 19 occurred within 500 m of a road. The reproductive rate was estimated to be 2.11 cubs per female per year and it is assumed that females with cubs or yearlings have a higher mortality risk than females without any cubs or two year olds. Females with cubs could have a lower survival rate due to the fact that they occur closer to roads because male bears do the opposite. However, males were still more prone to mortalities than females in general.
Both survival rate and reproduction are important factors when it come to population management. A road density threshold of 0.75 km/km2 would ensure more stability regarding grizzly bear populations. However, if a similar survival rate for both females with and without cubs is assumed a threshold of 1.25 km/km2 could still be manageable. Not only road density but also traffic volume should be considered in road management even on resource-based gravel roads.
In conclusion, different ages and sex of bears have different survival rates regarding roads, however, not only survival rates but also reproduction must be looked at when planning population management. Females with cubs have a lower survival rate than females without cubs but males have a lower survival rate than females. For management it is recommended to keep road density at 0.75 km/km2 or below and to consider traffic volume as well.
Assessing the wildlife response towards roads is difficult for several reasons such as different effects of road density. Roads not only have an effect on the behaviour of animals but also on the population number, as many die in collisions with cars or get separated from the rest of the group. It is important to understand these responses the animals have towards road density and determine a threshold for road density.
A movement-based model was created which was based on elk in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. Maintained gravel roads were the focus of the study. Throughout almost the whole study area there were no roads with a lower density than 1.6 km of road/km2. With the increase of road density and road network the survival rate and the habitat accessibility decreased.
The study identified a potential threshold between 0.25 km and 0.5 km of road/km2. It was also determined that a road density of above 1.25 km/km2 would mean a continual increase in mortality risk. Elk seem to avoid roads in areas where they are hunted but not in areas where hunting is restricted. The road design can have a big influence when for example forage habitats are abundant and the roads would move away from these areas. In this case, the elk could move around without encountering many roads. However, if a road goes straight through a clearcut, the elk would avoid the whole forage habitat. With the knowledge that the road design can have an impact on how wildlife responds it is possible to expand the road network while ensuring the safety of the ecosystem. However, this does not replace the reduction of road density and road-less areas as tools to protect wildlife, for they are still much more effective.
In conclusion, road networks can reduce or isolate populations of wildlife and therefore affect the ecosystem negatively. With the creation of a movement-based model it was possible to determine a potential threshold between 0.25 km/km2 and 0.5 km/km2. The road design, together with reduction of road density and road-less areas, can help in the protection of wildlife like the elk.
Eleven organizations, with various focuses (recreational, conservation and ranching) began a partnership through the creation of the Coalition for the Licensing and Registration of Off-Road Vehicles (ORV) in the province of British Columbia. They aim to mitigate the issue related to ORV uses in order to be able to maintain positive aspects of ORV activities while limiting its negative impacts on the environment, wildlife, other users and industries. The first step in the process of ORV management improvements is the establishment of registration, licensing and management strategies of off-road vehicles and with the revenues associated, the creation of a Trust Fund that would be used for ORV management programs. After three years of work, including public and stakeholder consultation, the ORV Coalition proposed to the government 47 recommendations that are intended to lead to concrete changes of ORV legislation.
The first main topic of the recommendations provided is Legislation which mainly concerns the creation of an ORV Act in collaboration with the ORV Coalition. The second topic is the Vehicle registration and licensing, and trust fund. The last topic is Management which concerns education, safety, trails, conservation and compliance and enforcement issues. For the trails, the ORV Coalition recommends the use of the Trust Funds for the responsible development, maintenance and enhancement of trails, ensuring safety, environment preservation, mitigation of impacts on other users and governmental approval. Another important regulation concerning trails is the consultation and education of all users and stakeholders. Regarding conservation, the ORV Coalition recommends, among others, to address the lack of environment protection laws to discourage misbehaviour from irresponsible ORV users and recommends also to encourage partnership between responsible ORV users groups, government and conservation groups and to allow them to use the Trust Fund to mitigate the negative impacts to environment that are related to ORV use. In the same idea ORV users should be prohibited to come out of the roads and trails in areas identified as environmentally sensitive. As for trail construction, stakeholders should be consulted. The management of recreational access has not been addressed here, but is of important concern.
The 47 recommendations on which this report has been created benefit government for several reasons including improvement of safety and environment protection legislation, reduction of conflicts, red tape and costs, and increase of revenue.