Monitoring Off-Road Vehicle Use in a Subsistence Hunting Area

By Sarah Stehn (last updated March, 2016)
a map that shows legal and illegal trails in the Cantwell area
Figure 1 - Legal and illegal ORV routes and trails within the Cantwell Traditional Use Area.

The Cantwell Traditional Use Area, a segment of specially managed Park lands near the town of Cantwell, allows qualified subsistence users to operate off-road vehicles (ORV) for subsistence purposes on established routes (Figure 1). Totaling approximately 11km, the Windy Creek Trail, Pyramid Peak Trail, and Cantwell Creek Floodplain Route allow subsistence users to maintain a pattern of ORV use considered traditional prior to Park management of those lands. To ensure that excess resource damage does not occur because of this allowance, beginning in 2008, botany program staff has conducted annual monitoring to document trail use, extent, and condition - including any impacts or incursions beyond established trails.

Overall, trail use remains stable across the area and it appears likely that the same users are using the trails in the same way each year to fulfill their subsistence hunting needs. Trail conditions vary among the different trails, but in general marking of routes and boundaries in 2009 appears to have concentrated ORV impacts to smaller areas. Additionally, areas of ORV incursion into sensitive wetlands that occurred prior to monitoring began are showing signs of recovery (Figure 2), indicating that further incursions in those areas have been avoided.

photo progression that shows recovery of a field over 10 years
Figure 2 - This area of illegal ORV incursion is trending towards recovery, but damage to the sensitive vegetation remains visible 10 years later.

2015-2016 Update

In 2015, we mapped trail conditions, assessed recovery of vegetation at repeat photo points, and documented ORV use from late July through late September via trail counters. Compliance of ORV users with trail regulations was high and we found no notable incursions. Vegetation recovery continues at sites of previous incursion, but damages remain visible (Figure 3). In 2016, we plan to continue monitoring as above, as well as conduct an aerial search for possible new incursions.

maps that show the reduction in trails from 2005 to 2015
Figure 3 - This area west of the Cantwell Creek floodplain is trending towards recovery, albeit slowly, from damage caused by illegal ORV use prior to 2006. GPS mapping has revealed reduction in trail length and damage severity classes.