Working to better outdoor recreation and wildlife dynamics through education, outreach, science and policy.
With outdoor recreation and visitation to Washington’s wildlands booming, both in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the continued growth of our region’s population, Conservation Northwest staff and Board Members, in consultation with other scientists, recreation leaders and advisers, have been developing a new conservation effort since early 2020, which we’ve dubbed our Wildlife-Recreation Coexistence Program.
The intent of this new program—which builds on our past work on issues ranging from national park infrastructure and ski area expansions to informing ATV and mountain bike access policies—is two-fold: we will support sustainable outdoor recreation and wildlife awareness through education, outreach and collaboration. And we will seek to reduce impacts on wildlife and habitat, especially threatened species, through policymaking, grassroots advocacy, and scientific review.
We’ve compiled some tips to help keep wildlife and ourselves safe while spending time outdoors, as well as become involved in discussions around e-bike access on public lands. We also partnered with Home Range Wildlife Research to compile a report summarizing published science on interactions between wildlife and recreationists.
In short, the Wildlife-Recreation Coexistence Program (WREC) will help to reduce outdoor recreation impacts on species and habitats through applied science, advocacy and outreach. This program will also strive to advance sustainable outdoor opportunities while also standing up for Indigenous cultural resources, values and Treaty rights, including First Foods.
Download a PDF copy of our Wildlife-Recreation Coexistence Program description.
News on Wildlife-Recreation Coexistence
- October 2023: Hiking Needs New Rules, The Atlantic
- July 2023: Balancing Our Outdoor Desire with Wildlife Welfare, Natural Habitat Adventures
- June 2023: Conservation Northwest unveils the Wildlife Ambassador Project in the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River
- June 2023: Wildlife Roundtable: What does it mean to respect wildlife?, Vail Daily
- January 2023: Outdoor recreation can impact WA wildlife. Here’s how conservationists say we can help, Tacoma News Tribune
- January 2023: Ongoing efforts seek to improve understanding of recreation’s impact on wildlife, The Yakima Herald-Republic
- January 2023: Report: Outdoor recreation impacts Washington wildlife in complex ways, highlighting potential shift in management, Spokesman Review
- November 2022: Assessing the impact of increasing human/wildlife interactions, Methow Valley News
- September 2022: New report details impacts that outdoor recreation can have on Washington’s wildlife, urging the need for robust recreation management
- February 2022: Washington wildlife agency proposes 10-year recreation plan in response to boom in outdoor use, Spokesman Review
- November 2021: In the Tetons, Backcountry Skiers Might Have to Sacrifice Their Terrain to Bighorn Sheep, Outside Magazine
- October 2021: Conservation Northwest participates in state e-bike policy advisory committee
- October 2021: Know how to recreate outdoors responsibly and safely around wildlife
- September 2021: Comments on Mount Rainier National Park’s Nisqually Corridor Management Plan
- August 2021: 2020 was a banner year for outdoor recreation. Now state managers wonder, will it last? And will it pay?, The Spokesman Review
- August 2021: Is it finally time for the backpack tax?, Outside Magazine
- April 2021: HOW DOES THE ‘RECREATION BOOM’ AFFECT TREATY RESOURCES?, Northwest Treaty Tribes
- February 2021: Reverence, Respect, Reciprocity: A Sustainable Future for Recreation, Adventures Northwest Magazine
- February 2021: OUTDOOR RECREATION THREATENS TREATY RESOURCES, Northwest Treaty Tribes
- June 2021: Crowds swarm the public lands, High Country News
- September 2020: Recreation becomes ‘wreckreation’ as careless outdoor adventures turn destructive, spark wildfires, The Seattle Times
- August 2019: Hiking trails are a path to destruction for Colorado elk, High Country News
Washington state has the second largest population in the West (7.6 million people and growing), yet has the smallest overall landmass and least amount of federal public lands among Western states. The greater Puget Sound is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the country, leading to many more outdoor users each year across the state, particularly after 2020.
While we are happy to see more people enjoying the outdoors, we can’t ignore the costs associated with overuse or under-regulation, especially when Leave No Trace ethics are not in practice. One particular cost that has often been overlooked by recreation groups and industry is the impact of human presence/activities to sensitive flora and fauna. The rapid increase in recreation use and development poses significant impacts to wildlife and one of the greatest challenges facing our local land managers.
While more research is needed, especially locally, activities including motorized vehicle use, mountain biking, backcountry skiing and more have been associated with negative impacts on wolverines, elk, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, marbled murrelet, mountain caribou and other species, as well as sensitive watersheds, meadows, grasslands and other habitats.
In many areas, impacts are not dependent on a particular use, but are the result of significant increases in the overall volume of year-round human activity. No single trail or recreational experience can be held responsible for declines in wildlife populations–but yet collectively, our trail systems and recreation uses are undeniably impactful. Many of our region’s wild areas and public lands are also important for First Foods, hunting, fishing and gathering, and other traditional uses by Indigenous peoples. Widespread year-round recreation can have an outsized adverse impact on these culturally important activities and Tribal treaty rights, as well as the experiences of other public land users invested in wildlife conservation.
By identifying areas and activities in Washington that may disturb sensitive wildlife, WREC works with recreation groups to educate the public on their potential impacts on wild critters, as well as provide guidance on how and where to minimize harmful impacts. We’ll also continue to engage on recreation-related proposals that may negatively affect wildlife and their habitat, such as expanded access for electric-powered bicycles, in addition to advocating for policies that promote sustainable recreation and prevent the overuse of our public lands.
Additional Resources and Links
- Wildlife Awareness and Safety Tips
- Leave No Trace – Wildlife at Risk
- Wildlife Safety 101
- The 7 principles of Leave No Trace
- Defenders of Wildlife – Living in Bear Country
- Hiking in Washington cougar country – Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
- Quiet, Nonconsumptive Recreation Reduces Protected Area Effectiveness, Society for Conservation Biology
- Conservation Northwest’s policy stance on mountain bikes and wild areas
- The “Recreation Boom” on Public Lands in Western Washington: Impacts to Wildlife and Implications for Treaty Tribes, A Summary of Current Literature, The Tulalip Tribes
- OVERCROWDING OUTDOORS BUMMING YOU OUT?, Outdoor Alliance
- Recreate Responsibly Coalition
In this program, all types of recreation are in its purview: frontcountry, backcountry, human powered and mechanized recreational activities. As a result, WREC will work with recreationists of all types, ages and backgrounds across the state. However, terrestrial recreation will be the initial focus given its sharp growth in the region.
As for particular species and habitat of focus, WREC will work in tandem with other CNW programs to address key habitat areas and species, and also consider impacts to other threatened/endangered/key species in the state.
The WREC program’s tactics fall into two distinct groups:
- Education and outreach to engage and inform the recreation populace on sustainable and safe recreation.
- Policy formation related to issues around recreation and wildlife or habitat, including regulation setting.
Public engagement will build awareness around recreation’s impact on wildlife, supporting sustainable recreation and partnering with recreation coalition groups. WREC aims to produce and share streamlined education material for wildlife safety and recreation best practices to limit negative impacts. This will initially have more tactical focus, while policy formation will gradually ramp up over time.
In line with Conservation Northwest’s long history of collaboration and partnership building, WREC works to coordinate outreach and events with other organizations and partner with existing coalitions and outdoor recreation learning spaces by bringing education materials and curriculum to implement into practice.
To aid its objectives, WREC will work to summarize published science on interactions between wildlife and recreationists. This review will help inform outdoor recreation focused projects/proposals such as ski area expansions or road and motorized use development. Innovative scientific analysis will also identify key geographic areas and species impacted by outdoor recreation and help determine the threshold where recreation becomes unsustainable.
WREC works with partner agencies, organizations, Tribes and businesses to analyze the impacts of increased recreation on Pacific Northwest wildlife and plant species. These resources will support the development of appropriate policy for public lands use, both internal and external.
To pursue its policy goals, WREC will advocate through grasstops (direct) and grassroots, with coalition involvement similar to other CNW programs. WREC aims to find policy outcomes to prioritize areas where we’re willing to support and encourage increased recreation and areas where we draw a stronger line due to wildlife impact or Tribal values, as well as alternative recreation (less impactful recreational activities or closer to home).