Off-road recreation on public lands in North America has increased dramatically in recent years. Wild ungulates are sensitive to human activities, but the effect of off-road recreation, both motorized and nonmotorized, is poorly understood. We measured responses of elk (Cervus elaphus) to recreational disturbance in northeast Oregon, USA, from April to October, 2003 and 2004. We subjected elk to 4 types of recreational disturbance: all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riding, mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Motion sensors inside radiocollars worn by 13 female elk recorded resting, feeding, and travel activities at 5-minute intervals throughout disturbance and control periods. Elk fed and rested during control periods, with little time spent traveling. Travel time increased in response to all 4 disturbances and was highest in mornings. Elk travel time was highest during ATV exposure, followed by exposure to mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Feeding time decreased during ATV exposure and resting decreased when we subjected elk to mountain biking and hiking disturbance in 2003. Our results demonstrated that activities of elk can be substantially affected by off-road recreation. Mitigating these effects may be appropriate where elk are a management priority. Balancing management of species like elk with off-road recreation will become increasingly important as off-road recreational uses continue to increase on public lands in North America.
Additional publication details
Behavioral responses of north American Elk to recreational activity