Evaluating the road-effect zone on wildlife distribution in a rural landscape

Authors


  • Corresponding Editor: D. P. C. Peters.

Abstract

The road-effect zone is the area in which ecological effects extend outward from a road. Dispersed off-highway vehicle (OHV; e.g., four-wheelers and snowmachines) activity on rural road networks creates a disturbance that reduces the effective amount of wildlife habitat and therefore has the potential for an extensive road-effect zone. Consequently, land managers must consider the trade-offs between rural road development and the conservation of habitat for species of concern. We conducted a spatially-explicit study of moose, Alces alces, occurrence in relation to rural roads and OHV routes in rural Alaska, U.S.A. We used logistic regression and AIC model selection criterion to develop resource selection functions (RSFs) for male and female moose at three spatial scales (250 m, 500 m, and 1000 m) in two seasons (summer and fall). To evaluate an ecological disturbance threshold from increasing route activity on the probability of animal occurrence, the RSFs were plotted against an index of route activity derived from interviews with OHV users, and fit with logarithmic functions. The variable for route activity improved the fit of RSF models for both sexes at all spatial scales and in both seasons. A negative relationship was found between moose occurrence and routes or areas in which routes were in close proximity to primary forage, with the exception of male moose at the 1000-m scale in the fall. Therefore, among the spatial scales of analysis, the road-effect zone for male moose was determined to be between 500 m and 1000 m, and >1000 m for female moose. Furthermore, route activity <0.25 km of vehicle travel/km2/day was a threshold value at which moose sustained a high probability of occurrence (0.60 to 0.91). The results of our study suggest that the dispersed ecological effect of rural roads and OHV routes should be considered in transportation and land-management planning efforts. Relatively low levels of vehicular activity may create extensive road-effect zones for sensitive species.

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