Creation and use of multi-use trails are increasing throughout grasslands of North America. While the direct and indirect ecological impacts of multi-use trails are generally understood, their specific impacts on adjacent grassland conservation require further assessment. Traditional scientific methods of quantifying trail impacts are often prohibitively costly in terms of required time, expertise, and equipment. Here, we evaluate the utility of a rapid assessment methodology—combining rangeland health protocols for grasslands with publicly available Google Earth mapping technologies—for capturing trail impacts as a function of distance from trail in a multi-use natural area in southwestern Alberta, Canada. Our methodology successfully detected a positive relationship between rangeland health scores and increasing distance from trail, indicating its viability as a rapid assessment tool. Second, this methodology was sensitive enough to allow the development of a more generalized statistical model demonstrating that rangeland health was best explained by a combination of slope, aspect, plant community type, and distance from trail. Combined, we suggest the limited costs of this method, combined with its ability to detect indirect impacts of trails on the health of adjacent grasslands, indicate this tool has potential utility for land managers where resources are limited. More specifically, we suggest this grassland health protocol can be highly effective as a first “rapid assessment,” prior to investing in more traditional ecological methodologies.
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Vol. 38 • No. 5