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YouFund Campaign Supports UW Student Research on Impacts of Recreation on Pilot Hill Wildlife

April 26, 2021
Trail camera photo of an elk
A young cow elk is captured on a game camera on the new Pilot Hill public recreation area. UW researchers are studying the potential impacts of nonmotorized recreation on wildlife in the area east of Laramie. (UW Photo)

A new study organized by faculty members in the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources seeks to identify the potential impacts of nonmotorized recreation on wildlife at the newly acquired Pilot Hill property east of Laramie.

The study, “Understanding Recreation-Wildlife Interactions on Pilot Hill,” is led by Haub School faculty members Abigail Sisneros-Kidd, an assistant professor of outdoor recreation and tourism management; Joe Holbrook, an assistant professor of carnivore and habitat ecology; and Drew Bennett, a professor of practice in the Whitney MacMillan Private Lands Stewardship Program. The team is working closely with stakeholders, including Pilot Hill Inc. and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, to implement the study.

“Pilot Hill offers a unique landscape with lots of opportunity for outdoor recreation and also provides significant habitat for several wildlife species, including elk, moose, pronghorn, black bears, mountain lions and bald eagles,” Sisneros-Kidd says. “We know participation in nonmotorized recreation is on the rise nationally, particularly in the West. However, there is not a lot of research available that shows how increases in recreation affect wildlife. Pilot Hill provides an ideal laboratory to engage University of Wyoming students to address questions that will increase in importance as outdoor recreation continues to grow in Wyoming and beyond.”

The project uses an experimental study design that will allow researchers to monitor the behavior, habitat use and occupancy of wildlife on the property before, during and after it is open to the public for recreational use, and trail infrastructure is built.

Using a network of game cameras deployed in three sampling areas of the property -- including a high-recreational use area, a moderate-recreational use area, and a control area on private land adjacent to the property that will remain closed to public access and recreation -- researchers will collect photo data year-round to observe activity patterns and intensity of habitat use by wildlife.

Images collected by the cameras will be organized by species and statistically analyzed to determine changes in behavior relative to recreational use. The team also will install trail counters, conduct user surveys and collect data on visitor spatial behaviors on the trails, using GPS to help illustrate patterns of recreational use within the Pilot Hill trail system. Wildlife data then will be linked to recreation data to evaluate questions about spatio-temporal changes in wildlife behavior and habitat use associated with recreation.

The UW Foundation has established a YouFund campaign to raise $7,500 for the first year of the project. All donations will go directly to support student researchers and will be used to pay for project equipment, including memory cards and batteries needed for the camera traps, as well as to compensate student workers for their time on-site and travel to and from study areas on the Pilot Hill property.

To learn more about the fund, go here.

Pilot Hill consists of nearly nine square miles of open space that connects the town of Laramie to more than 65,000 additional acres of national forest and state lands in the Laramie Range. The property is managed by the nonprofit Pilot Hill Inc., in partnership with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and is jointly owned by UW and the state.

The site operates under a special use recreation and wildlife habitat management lease approved last August. Previously, the property was owned by Warren Lands and Livestock Co. and was made available via purchase by UW and a land exchange organized by the Wyoming Office of State Lands in July 2020.

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