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Taylor Yellowstone - Leave Only Footprints How Backcountry...

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Yellowstone Science 14 Decades ago, Aldo Leopold stated that it would not be logging, mining, or roads that would threaten the wilderness, but the people who came to visit these areas. Although many camping-induced impacts may initially be subtle, campsites receive the greatest impact of any backcountry areas and land managers are concerned that cumulative and accelerated changes may be occurring. If management strate- gies and practices to conserve wilderness environments are to be developed, mea- surements of the impacts and environ- mental changes are essential. One such impact that had not been researched was that of camping-related activities on the forest structure surrounding backcountry campsites. To determine if such changes are mea- surable, I studied 30 campsites in Yel- lowstone National Park (YNP) during 1993 and 1994. My hypotheses were that: • The density of tree saplings up to 140 cm (4.6 ft) height would increase as distance from the campsite increased. • The forest structure around camp- sites would be measurably different de- pending on user type, i.e., sites used by backpackers compared to those used by campers arriving by canoes and motor- boats. More annual campsite users would correlate with a larger area of impact. This research was conducted as part of a master’s degree program within the Department of Earth Science at Montana State University in cooperation with Tom Olliff of the Backcountry Office in Yel- lowstone, with funding provided by the Yellowstone Center for Mountain Envi- ronments (now the Mountain Research Center) at Montana State University. David Cole, of the Aldo Leopold Center for Wilderness Research, Intermountain Research Station, U.S. Forest Service, also provided financial and technical sup- port which proved invaluable. Previous Research Research within mountainous environ- ments (Cole 1982, 1989) has shown that forest tree species and other woody veg- etation are more susceptible to damage by trampling than are forbs. In the Eagle Cap Wilderness (Cole 1986) and the Bob Marshall Wilderness (Cole 1983), sap- lings were found to be more susceptible to trampling than were mature trees, and almost all saplings within campsite areas were eliminated because of trampling. The forest regeneration that did occur took place within isolated pockets of campsites where young trees were pro- tected by mature trees. Leave Only Footprints? How Backcountry Campsite Use Affects Forest Structure by James Y. Taylor Photo James Taylor
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Winter 1997 15 Increasing campsite use has been posi- tively correlated with increased impacts. It has been found that even with low use, campsite degradation, reductions in tree density, and changes in the percent of understory vegetation have occurred within mountain environments of the western United States. Studies of human use and campsite impacts have shown that the most influential factors of recre- ational impact included user behavior and mode of travel.
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