Detecting short-term responses to weekend recreation activity: Desert bighorn sheep avoidance of hiking trails


  • Associate Editor: Ruckstuhl


To study potential effects of recreation activity on habitat use of desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni), we placed Global Positioning System collars on 10 female bighorn sheep within the Wonderland of Rocks–Queen Mountain region of Joshua Tree National Park (JOTR), California, USA, from 2002 to 2004. Recreation use was highest from March to April and during weekends throughout the year. Daily use of recreation trails was highest during midday. By comparing habitat use (slope, ruggedness, distance to water, and distance to recreation trails) of female bighorn sheep on weekdays versus weekends, we were able to detect short-term shifts in behavior in response to recreation. In a logistic regression of bighorn sheep locations versus random locations for March and April, female locations at midday (1200 hours) were significantly more distant from recreation trails on weekends compared with weekdays. Our results indicate that within this region of JOTR, moderate to high levels of human recreation activity may temporarily exclude bighorn females from their preferred habitat. However, the relative proximity of females to recreation trails during the weekdays before and after such habitat shifts indicates that these anthropogenic impacts were short-lived. Our results have implications for management of wildlife on public lands where the co-existence of wildlife and recreational use is a major goal. Published 2013. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.