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Trails for People and Wildlife

children on trail

Photo by Rachel Stevens

Hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, horseback riding, snowmobiling -- these are just some of the ways we get outside to enjoy nature and unwind from our day-to-day activities. However, even these seeming innocuous activities can have impacts on wildlife including reduced abundance, reproduction, and survival. Thoughtful trail location allows us to get outside to enjoy nature and also minimize disturbance to wildlife.


Funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department developed a statewide tool that can be used to assess existing trails and site new trails in the most wildlife-friendly way. This mapping tool highlights areas particularly important for wildlife and areas that would be more suitable for trail development. Accompanying documents will explain how to use the tool, and provide some real-world examples of how conservation organizations have used it to make their trail planning efforts most effective.


Using the most relevant scientific research for New Hampshire, a map was created to highlight areas particularly important for wildlife that, if avoided, would help to minimize trail disturbance to wildlife. This tool works based on the following principals:


  • Keep unfragmented trail-free areas as large as possible
  • Avoid small patches of high quality or special habitats
  • Avoid riparian areas, permanent features in the landscape that serve as important wildlife corridors
  • Avoid locations of rare wildlife


impact to wildlife

Blue and gray spots are best locales for recreational trails to minimize impacts on wildlife. Red areas are particularly important to wildlife so are best to avoid.

Select image for larger view.



Evaluating Existing Trails

Wildlife hears and sees you coming and can be impacted even though they may be quite a distance from a trail. You can evaluate how much habitat is being impacted by existing trails or a new draft trail layout by looking at the alert and flight distances of wildlife.



The example above (select images for larger view) illustrates what portion of the Lower Shaker Wildlife Management Area in Enfield is being impacted by recreational trails (orange-red shading). There were 10 miles of trails on this 1,056 acre property with 73% of the property being impacted (left). After Fish and Game decommissioned some of the trails, that impact diminished by 21% while still providing plenty of recreational access and reducing conflict between different recreational activities.


Check back periodically for more information on how best to use this tool to site new trails and evaluate existing ones, and for town-based impact assessments of existing trails.


Make Your Own Maps

Coming soon will be the ability to make your own custom maps to site trails using GranitView.


GIS Users

If you have access to Geographic Information System software, you can download the "Planning Trail for People and Wildlife" data. Data is provided in raster format and includes metadata and technical data notes.



We welcome your feedback. For more information about applying this tool contact Jim Oehler or Rachel Stevens. For details on how this model was developed contact Katie Callahan.


This project was significantly improved by input from:


  • The Great Bay Resource Protection Partnership
  • EPA
  • Ibis Wildlife Consulting
  • Lakes Region Conservation Trust
  • Monadnock Conservancy
  • National Park Service
  • Natural Resource Conservation Service
  • NH Audubon
  • NH Dept. of Transportation
  • NH Trails Bureau
  • Society for the Protection of NH Forests
  • Southeast Land Trust of NH
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • UNH Cooperative Extension
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • US Forest Service
  • Upper Valley Trails Alliance
  • Washington Conservation Commission
  • White Mountain National Forest