Golden West Bench Recreation Use and Wildlife Habitat Study

Wildsight Golden is working in collaboration with local recreation groups to develop a study that focuses on the intensity of recreational land use and potential cumulative effects on wildlife and their habitat along the west bench of the Columbia River in the Dogtooth Range. The objective is to develop a better understanding of our current recreation “footprint” in this area and help us to avoid compromising the distribution and sustainability of wildlife populations or the integrity of their habitats over the long term.

The west bench north and south of Golden has become an increasingly popular destination for outdoor recreation in recent years. The main access road up onto the bench leads to the all-season Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, a center for alpine snow sports, including back country ski touring, downhill mountain biking, hiking and sightseeing. Residential development at the resort is growing and attracting more people to enjoy this spectacular area.

All along the benchlands trail networks are expanding for cross country mountain biking, hiking, Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, off-road motorbiking and ATV’s. Heli-skiing tenures have been in place for many years, offering some of the best powder skiing in the world. Heli-hiking and biking is encouraging easier access to the alpine zone and off-trail exploration in summer. Recreation sites at the few small lakes are becoming much busier for camping, boating, and swimming. It’s a happening place!

As is the case in so many other regions, increasing numbers of people can lead to conflict among various types of recreation land use that may be less compatible. A multi-sectorial planning process led by the Golden Backcountry Recreation Access Committee (GBRAC) has worked on developing zoning plans for motorized and non-motorized summer and winter recreation. Wildlife habitat values were considered broadly in the zoning designations. However, the cumulative effects of all human activity in the region are not well understood. Commercial forest harvesting also has a prominent influence on wildlife habitat.

Next steps towards managing our collective recreation impact in a way that protects wildlife will include compiling information in the intensity of our activities on the land. The effects of trail and road density on wide ranging species such as grizzly bear are becoming better understood through research in other areas. Factors such as location, how and when people use trails, and frequency of direct wildlife disturbance can all influence the actual effect on various species.

Continued protection of important wetland habitats along the west bench is also an important element of this work. We need to make sure that recreation trails are designed and used in a way that allows beaver colonies plenty of room to work their magic with wetlands.  

We are exploring opportunities to work in collaboration with the University of Northern British Columbia, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, and Recreation Sites and Trails BC to map recreational activity on the west bench and investigate how species including grizzly bears, cougars, wolverines, mountain goats, moose use this landscape.