Inventory of Biophysical Features and Off-Highway Vehicle Trails in Three Parks in the Peace River Corridor
Ryan Hermanutz and Robb B. Stavne
We inventoried the vegetative community composition, occurrence of invasive species, and agricultural infringement within three parks in the lower Peace River corridor: Peace River Wildland Provincial Park (PRWPP), Dunvegan West Wildland Provincial Park (DWWPP), and Greene Valley Provincial Park (GVPP). Habitat along the Peace River is highly valued by ungulates at all times of the year and, in particular, during winter and when calving. Disturbance from off‐highway vehicles (OHVs) has been shown to alter the distribution and movement of ungulates and may heighten the
mortality risk from predators that use them as travel routes. We used information from the literature to estimate the potential zone of disturbance associated with OHV use and applied buffers around OHV trails that we delineated in the three parks. We were particularly interested in areas where the OHV zone of disturbance overlapped with key ungulate range.
We identified nine broad vegetative community types within the three parks with trembling aspen being the most prevalent by an order of magnitude. We detected invasive plant species at 51 locations through incidental sightings. We commonly found these species in grassland areas and along OHV trails where we spent the greatest portion of our survey effort. We used a geographic information system (GIS) to detect 134 locations where agricultural activities infringed into park boundaries accounting for a total area of 299.32 ha.
We delineated 264 km of OHV trails and ranked these based on perceived use ranging from low to very high. Trail width ranged from 0.5 to 4.0 m suggesting that a variety of vehicle types use these parks from motorcycles to full‐size four‐wheel drive vehicles. The highest density of trails was found in PRWPP (0.65 km/km²), followed by DWWPP (0.35 km/km²) and GVPP (0.25 km/km²). We used a 100‐m buffer on each side of a trail to define the disturbance zone for ungulates. The aggregate area of this disturbance zone ranged from 5% in GVPP to 11% in PRWPP. However, the zone of disturbance was a much greater proportion of the area regarded to be important ungulate range
within the three parks, ranging from 69% in DWWPP to 98% in PRWPP. The literature suggests that ungulate response to OHV disturbance will vary depending on species and possibly season. In general, wildlife respond negatively to disturbance from OHVs and this effect may be particularly important during key life stages. For ungulates, late winter and the birthing periods are key life stages because they contribute greatly to the overall condition of local populations. We did not know the location of ungulate calving and fawning locations within the three parks, but future research on OHV use in these parks should consider the effect on these areas, once identified.