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Sharing the Land

January 8, 2021
woman hanging something on a tree trunk
Abbie Sisneros-Kidd, assistant professor in outdoor recreation and tourism management places a trail camera within the Pilot Hill Recreation Area.

Motion-sensor cameras help UW professors study recreational impact on wildlife.


By Micaela Myers


Thanks to Laramie’s new 4,000-acre-plus Pilot Hill Recreation Area on the northeast end of town, University of Wyoming researchers from the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources can further study recreational impacts on wildlife.

Assistant Professor in Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management Abby Sisneros-Kidd and fellow Haub School professors Drew Bennett and Joe Holbrook have placed 22 cameras each in high-recreation, low-recreation and no-recreation areas in the Pilot Hill area to understand the influence that recreation development has on wildlife habitat occupancy.

“Once trails are built and recreation begins on the property, we will also add trail counters to estimate visitor use of trails and GPS-based tracking and surveying of recreationists using the trails,” Sisneros-Kidd says. “We also have the ability to pair the GPS spatial data and surveys, so we can understand how things like visitor motivations can impact people’s spatial patterns and choices on a landscape.”

The first cameras were placed in January 2020 and show the presence of mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, elk, mule deer and other wildlife.

“The hope is that the data on wildlife occupancy and paired data on recreationist spatial behavior and motivations and preferences can help inform management of the Pilot Hill property to both protect wildlife that call the property home while also facilitating a recreation experience that people highly value,” Sisneros-Kidd says.

The study is unique in that, more often, researchers are called on to help once a problem such as erosion is already underway. Here, UW researchers have the opportunity to collect data that will help design and develop recreation in a way that is sustainable and that minimizes conflict while maximizing the utility of the land for a variety of purposes.

Sisneros-Kidd earned her bachelor’s in environmental science from Carthage College, her master’s in teaching and learning from DePaul University, and her Ph.D. in environment and society from Utah State University. In addition to her research, she teaches and conducts outreach.

“My favorite part of my job is when these parts of my job intersect and allow me to involve students in research that aids in informing sustainable recreation management in Wyoming communities,” she says. “I love the connections that I am able to make with the work that I do—connecting with students, with community stakeholders and with the land itself.”

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