“It’s like we’ve stared into a future that wasn’t supposed to arrive for a few decades,” said Randy Carpenter, who works with the community-planning organization FutureWest, in Bozeman. “The crush of people and the ecological impacts of rising recreation uses is right here, among us — right now — and it’s transforming the character of wild places.”
A paper published in the scientific journal PLOS One reviewed 274 scientific studies completed between 1981 and 2015 that examined the effects of recreation on a variety of animal species across all geographic areas and recreational activities. Kevin Crooks, a conservation biologist at Colorado State University, said given what we know now, “It might be time to establish limits on public access to protected areas and encourage changes in the behavior of recreationists.”
Though conservation groups continue to point fingers at logging, mining and ranching, they’ve been slow to acknowledge impacts from outdoor recreation.
Last winter, at a U.S. Forest Service meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, biologists noted that backcountry skiing and snowboarding were harming a dwindling, isolated herd of bighorn sheep. Displaying what can only be called a crass attitude, one skier was heard to remark: “Well, the sheep have had these mountains for 10,000 years. Now it’s our turn.”
Justin Farrell, the author of the book Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West, grew up in Wyoming, watched it change as big money moved in, and now teaches at Yale. He told me recently, “It’s too easy for all of us to look the other way — a sort of willful ignorance — to not really see and examine the actual impacts of recreation.”