Dear ABT Editor:

“Trail-Building: Habitat Destruction by a Different Name”

Scientists are generally honest in what they say, but not in what they choose to study. It's obvious that trail-building destroys habitat. So why has so little been written about this? Despite a diligent search in one of the world's best academic libraries, I couldn't find a single book or article on the harm done by trail-building.

I notice that whenever I see a picture of a trail, I think, “Oh, a trail. So what?” It takes an effort of will to think about the wildlife habitat that was destroyed to build the trail. And the habitat destruction isn't restricted to the trail bed.

As Ed Grumbine pointed out in his book Ghost Bears, a grizzly can hear a human from a mile away and smell one from five miles away. And grizzlies are probably not unique in that. In other words, animals within five miles of a trail are inhibited from full use of their habitat. That is habitat destruction! If there were no trails, we would be confronted by our own destructiveness every time we entered a park. It is only because the habitat has already been destroyed for us, that we can pretend that we are doing no harm.

By far the greatest threat to wildlife habitat in so-called “protected” areas would appear to be mountain biking. Motorized vehicles are generally not allowed in natural areas. The most destructive use of trails is mountain biking. Knobby tires are perfectly designed to rip up the soil. Mountain bikers, with rare honesty, call their riding “shredding.” They also have a much greater range than hikers, and probably also equestrians. They also frequently ride illegally where bicycles are not allowed.

For more information on the harm done by trail-building, particularly the drive to build more trails for mountain biking, my paper is available at Or feel free to contact me directly.