Motorized recreation in North American wildlands is increasing, and technological developments in the power and range of vehicles has increased access to high-elevation habitats. The American marten (Martes americana) is vulnerable to this disturbance because martens, like other residents of high-elevation forests, are associated with remote wilderness conditions where the presence of motorized vehicles is a recent phenomenon. We evaluated the effects of vehicles at 2 study sites in California, USA, by comparing marten occupancy rates and probabilities of detection in areas where recreational vehicle use is legal and encouraged (use areas) with wilderness areas where vehicles are prohibited (non-use areas). We sampled vehicle occurrence in nearby use and non-use areas using sound level meters and determined marten occurrence using track and camera stations. We also included 2 secondary measures of potential effects of vehicles on martens: sex ratio and circadian pattern of activity. Martens were ubiquitous in use and non-use areas in both study sites, and there was no effect of vehicle use on marten occupancy or probability of detection. We predicted that females might be less common and martens more nocturnal in use than in non-use areas, but neither occurred. Martens were exposed to low levels of disturbance in our study sites. We estimated that a marten might be exposed to 0.5 vehicle passes/hour and that this exposure had the greatest effect on <20% of a typical home range area. Furthermore, vehicle use usually occurred when martens were inactive. We did not measure behavioral, physiological, or demographic responses, so it is possible that vehicles may have effects, alone or in concert with other threats (e.g., timber harvest), that we did not quantify. We encourage additional studies to determine whether other montane species that are year-round residents demonstrate the same response to motorized vehicles.
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Vol. 72 • No. 7