Spatial patterns of recreation impact on experimental campsites

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Journal of Environmental Management

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Management of camping impacts in protected areas worldwide is limited by inadequate understanding of spatial patterns of impact and attention to spatial management strategies. Spatial patterns of campsite impact were studied in two subalpine plant communities in the Wind River Mountains, Wyoming, USA (a forest and a meadow). Response to chronic disturbance and recovery from acute disturbance were both assessed. Previously undisturbed sites were camped on at intensities of one and four nights/year, for either one or three consecutive years. Recovery was followed for three years on sites camped on for one year. Percent bare ground, assessed in 49 contiguous 1 m2 quadrats, increased with increasing use frequency, particularly on the forest sites. Magnitude of impact varied spatially within campsites, with impact decreasing as distance from the center of the campsite increased. On the more fragile forest sites, this radial impact pattern developed rapidly and remained after three years of recovery. Concentration of camping activities around a centrally located small cooking stove was the apparent cause of this pattern. Maximum variation in magnitude of impact occurred at intermediate levels of campsite use and disturbance. The magnitude, variability and spatial pattern of impact varied with the spatial scale of analysis. Generally, results of these controlled experiments are consistent with earlier studies of campsites and validate the management implications derived from those studies. Even where campers use low-impact techniques, low levels of camping use can cause substantial impact and it is important to concentrate use. On resistant sites, however, it is possible that low levels of use can be sustained with minimal resultant impact.

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