Natural Resources Guidelines for Recreation Path & Trail Planning


Wildlife and Plant Communities

This fact sheet was produced by the Vermont Agency of NaCural Resources and the National Park Senrice Rivers. Trails and Conservation Assistance Program. Summer 1995.


There are two types of values that involve wildlife and plant communities that should be considered when creating recreation paths. First is an ecological value. Animals, plants and natural communities are important resources simply because they exist and also because of their roles in maintaining biological processes. The second value is people-oriented. Animals, plants and natural communities are important resources because they Zrovide recreational opportunities such as wildlife and plant viewing, hunting and fishing.

Trails can help people develop a greater appreciation for species and habitats in local areas. Knowing what native species, habitats and recreational opportunities already exist along and near a proposed alternative transportation route can lead to a fuller outdoor experience for path and trail users. At the same time, that information may create awareness for and avoidance of areas that provide critical habitat for certain species that may need to be protected from human presence and/or interference.

Natural Systems

VALUES: Wildlife and plant communities are present throughout Vermont's diverse landscape. Habitats that wildlife depend upon include streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, woodlands and wetlands. Examples of significant natural communities which may provide specialized plant and animal habitat include the following: floodplain forests, forestsˇolder than 150 years, pine-oak-heath sandplain forests, rich hardwood forests and caves. Vernal woodland pools (temporary pools that flood primarily in springtime) are especially important to breeding salamanders and frogs.

In addition to natural communities where wildlife live, forest openings, dead standing trees, exposed perches, stumps, downed wood, brush piles, rock piles, springs and seeps also provide habitat for many species. Den trees are those with cavities where wildlife can hide, rest or raise young. Certain tree species provide important food sources such as oak, beech, hickory and cherry.

Good physical habitat for fish includes protective cover (near feeding areas, e.g. riffle-pool sequence), stable stream flows, and appropriate water temperatures, depth and velocity. Other considerations that are also important include weather, food availability, water chemistry, predators, disease and competing fish species.

Many species have specific requirements for survival. Great blue herons often nest colonially in trees on islands, wetlands or hillsides. Forest hawks and owls build large stick nests and may be discouraged from doing so if interupted by certain human activities. Deer wintering areas provide critical protection from deep snow and cold temperatures. Endangered and threatened and other rare plants and animals may be disturbed by human presence.

CONSIDERATIONS: Issues to be concemed about with regard to alternative transportation paths are the following:

The suggestions that follow can help minimize concerns with these issues.

A comprehensive inventory of wildlife and plant communities along or near a proposed trail should be conducted. Besides finding areas that are significant on a statewide basis, people could be guided into determining the significance of species and natural communities to their local area. For example, when an otherwise common habitat type is scarce in an area, it may be important to preserve it by routing a trail around it. Or, people in urban areas may decide that certain habitats are very important to maintain because so few natural areas remain there.

A buffer of sufficient distance should be created between trails and sensitive areas. The State Wetlands Office and the Nongame and Natural Heritage Program in the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department can assist with this. The following table shows recommended buffer widths for several groups of wildlife.


most wildlife 600 feet
hawks 330 feet
riparian mammals 200 feet
reptiles 200 feet
amphibians 200 feet

Avoid fragmenting natural communities and habitats wherever possible. For example, if any extensive block of forest is broken up by open, brushy or agricultural lands, or a network of wide, open trails, the result can be increased predation, nest parasitism, wind damage, increased temperature, decreased moisture and weed invasion. In other words, a trail that is cut too wide could create a forest opening that attracts predators and disrupts nesting patterns.

Minimize disturbances to wildlife corridors and critical habitats, such as deer wintering areas and endangered species reproductive.areas. Try to maximize buffers by stream corridors which are important to many species for travel, feeding and reproduction. Nesting herons, for example, are easily disturbed by human presence. Consider leaving such critical areas intact whenever possible. Trails could be incompatible with certain habitats or habitat features.

Look for opportunities to preserve existing natural habitats and maintain wildlife movement by building boardwalks, bridges or wildlife tunnels in appropriate areas.

Minimize disturbances to habitats that could give non-native (exotic) species an advantage over native ones. When enhancement efforts are undertaken, be sure to use native plant species. Refer to DEC's publications about native species and seek the advice of botanists from the Nongame and Natural Heritage Program in the Fish and Wildlife Department.


VALUES: Wildlife and plant watchers, hunters and anglers derive great pleasure from their outdoor activities. Wildlife and plant communities are at the heart of their experiences. Wildflowers, songbirds, hawks, wild trout, well-stocked streams, wetlands, orchids, fern glades, plentiful deer, small mammal populations and beautiful views, including hillsides with abundant spring wildflowers draw many people into exploring the wildlife and plant communities of Vermont. Alternative transportation paths can help them reach their destinations safely and may provide wildlife educational opportunities.

CONSIDERATIONS: A comprehensive survey of favorite recreational sites should be undertaken. This information can be used to minimize user conflicts, as well as detriments to wildlife and plants, that could arise when alternative transportation paths are created.

Avoid routing paths near choice fishing areas to minimize disturban ces to fish and anglers by passers by.

Keep path users safe and avoid alerting animals to human presence ~via scent) by routing trails far away from areas where hunters will be pursuing game species, including upland, riparian and wetland habitats (including waterfowl areas).
Create opportunities to connect paths and trails with wildlife observation sites that minimize disturbances to wild plants and animals.

Develop educational signage about adjacent natural areas. Signs can be used to explain what is being viewed as well as why a trail has been routed away from a sensitive area, such as an osprey nesting site.

Place trails where they will not change the aesthetics for other users. For example, people who canoe a stream will appreciate not having to watch bicyclists along the shoreline.

For more information about this report. please contact:

Linda Henzel, Education Specialist
Nongame & Natural Heritage Program
Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department
103 5. Main Street
Waterbury. Vermont 05671 -0501

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