Part 2 of a special 3-part series in landuse and environmental science providing a greater understanding of how these cannot be separated if we want to save trails and keep our motorized recreation sports alive and well.
Environmental Science, Part 2: Cumulative Impacts
As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, when we make changes to the pieces of our puzzle, soon the effect compounds itself. This is called the cumulative impact or cumulative effect.
If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? More importantly, what happens to the forest? Let’s look at what might happen…
For example, if a trail goes without maintenance, erosion levels may increase over several seasons. Increased erosion will wash more sediment into nearby watersheds. Sediments can clog streams, ruin fish and insect habitat and change the course of a watershed.
If a fire or logging operation opens more of the forest in the same watershed, then this may allow more water runoff. This runoff combines with the runoff from the unmaintained trail to make a cumulative sedimentation load – a cumulative impact. It adds up.
Obviously, these impacts can be easily mitigated and managed by sound science and reasonable management, and what some agencies call “Best Management Practices (BMP).”
Good land managers understand this and through their planning process can allow for the type of management and maintenance that prevents unnecessary cumulative impacts.
This applies to volunteers as well…
A recreational leader who is also a land steward takes the big picture into account and asks what the cumulative impact might be of a project. These impacts are then explained and shared with project volunteers. The more people that understand how everything fits together, the more likely they will continue to “do the right thing.”
The cumulative impact can also be defined in terms of modifying your recreational toy.
If you upgrade one component of a system (such as a drive train), then you’ve probably created a weak point elsewhere in the system. As you continue to upgrade individual parts and pieces, sooner or later the cumulative impact of this selective upgrading and strengthening will surface as a weak point that you’ve yet to upgrade!
When evaluating a trail project for your club, it’s important to understand how it fits in with the big picture and what the cumulative impacts might be. By explaining this to your fellow volunteers, you increase your chances of gaining more committed involvement.
You also minimize the misunderstandings and rumors that might detract from the overall good of your project.
When it comes to wildlife and plants, you know that in nature, not all things are uniform in their occurrence. Certain species are abundant in certain habitats and some are limited to specific areas, within which there could be further restrictions on the essentials needed for life. As volunteers working on our trails, it helps to understand this.
The distribution of plants and animals is controlled by habitat, as well as annual rainfall, seasonal temperature patterns, and other climatic factors. A good public land management wildlife biologist can explain this and how it relates to your trail projects.
Naturally, we can rely on public land manager wildlife and plant biologists to help us when it comes to developing trail networks. But sometimes it helps just to know that for every action, there is a reaction.
Many, if not all these actions and reactions can be managed with good science and good sense. This is where we must be involved. Not always does good science prevail; sometimes politics gets in the way. If you find yourself battling politics in your trail work, get a hold of someone who can help from organized recreation groups like your national, regional or state association.
In nature, there is a constant change in order to achieve balance. Nature is always trying to find balance and offset changes. Drought years are eventually compensated for by floods. Hot summers are contrasted by wet winters. It’s a continuing cycle of change.
What we can do, as humans living with nature, is to constantly reassess what we are doing to nature. Our population expands every year. Our resource base is fairly fixed until we find new resources. On the other hand, many of our resources are renewable – especially when sound science is allowed to work.
The demand for outdoor recreation increases every year. We need to ask what is our cumulative impact and how can we work with it? For volunteers and project leaders, the common-sense solution to managing our eco-system and cumulative impacts is fivefold:
→1. Learn about eco-system management and cumulative impacts in your local recreation areas.
→2. Be actively involved in public Scoping sessions and input workshops conducted by our land management agencies in your area. Present the recreational perspective that is geared towards continuing our access.
→3. Educate other volunteers in the big picture.
→4. Be willing to mitigate impacts in your trail projects and events to keep our lifestyle sustainable.
→5. Be proactive in planning your trail projects and events and take into consideration any cumulative impacts and ecosystem management issues. Get ahead of the issues before they become an issue.
Working in harmony…
People will continue to need resources derived from activities such as mining, grazing, and logging. People will also continue to need more recreational opportunities to compensate for the stress of daily life. People will also continue to build houses in rural areas where many of us have recreated in the past. Humans are an integral part of Nature and we must find ways to work (and play) in harmony.
Land managers are obligated to manage the entire picture – humans and nature. They must also balance the Recreational Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) where man and nature mix.
Stay tuned for Environmental Science, Part 3; Recreational Opportunity Spectrum