Effects of Backcountry Aviation on Deer (Odocoileus spp.) Stress Physiology

A study to investigate stress levels on wildlife resulting from backcountry recreational aviation primarily composed of single engine aircraft was conducted in 2014 – 2015 in western Montana and wilderness areas in Idaho. The study focused on white-tailed deer and mule deer because of their ubiquitous distribution and relatively high densities allowing for repeated measures and comparative sampling between airstrip sites and control sites. Fecal deposits were collected from deer and analyzed for fecal glucocorticoid metabolite (FGM) concentrations as an indicator of stress levels. Samples were collected from a suite of airstrip sites that ranged in use from high frequency of visitors to airstrips with very low frequency of use. Airstrip sites were compared with control sites composed of campgrounds and recreational access sites that were selected to mimic the airstrip sites, but without aircraft takeoffs and landings. Visitor day-use varied among airstrip and non-airstrip control sites, but were similar in the range of variation between site types. There was no significant difference in airstrip and control sites in 2014, with the exception of what the authors believe to be weather related stress levels expressed by deer at the Schafer Meadow Montana airstrip. In 2015, data analysis suggests that stress levels among deer were higher at the non-aviation, control sites than at the airstrip sites, in spite of the fact that two of the airstrip sites had the highest visitor-use among both airstrips and controls. The lowest FGM concentrations among all sites was found at Fish Lake airstrip, which also had the lowest human presence among both airstrip and control sites. Based on the results of our study, the authors concluded that there is no significant increase in stress levels among deer due to recreational aviation activity (e.g., takeoffs, landings, prop noise, camping, human presence) at backcountry airstrips compared to that expressed by deer as a result of similar, but non-aviation recreational activity (e.g., camping, motorized access to campground or trailhead, human presence) at campground and recreation access sites.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Edition: Final Report
  • Features: Figures; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: 24p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01596860
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: FHWA/MT-16-001/8117-044
  • Contract Numbers: 8117-44
  • Created Date: Apr 8 2016 9:54AM