Effects of Hiking on the Environment

Hiking is a hobby that most that have a passion for the outdoors involve themselves in. In fact i’m sure that unless a person grew up in a city they have probably gone for a hike once in their life. It’s the simplest thing to do, all you need is a trail and to put one foot in front of the other. What many would not realize is that hiking does have negative environmental impacts. As with reaching any destination transport is necessary to reach that destination. Usually a car is the ideal way of reaching your favorite hiking trail. Driving releases green house gas emissions into the air causing the green house effect heating up our planet. For a further explanation of the process of global warming due to green house gas emissions refer to the second paragraph of the Skiing/ Snowboarding page of this blog.

But let’s forget transportation and get to the direct effects hiking has had on the environment. I’ll list them out for you below, and talk about each following the short list.

  • Liter
  • Soil compaction/ off trail hiking
  • Fires

For many it is not a surprise that littering in natural ecosystems has a negative effect on the organisms that live there. Hazardous chemicals littered in the environment enter the bodies of organisms and cause detrimental health problems. Municipal trash litter also has a massive impact on the organisms and environment as a whole. Trash eaten by certain creatures cannot be digested and will kill organisms.

Soil compaction is exactly what it sounds like, the compaction of soil. As hikers repeatedly step on soil the soil becomes more and more compact. This is an issue becomes a more compact soil does not allow soil gas exchange, and infiltration into the soil to happen; 2 processes necessary for both decomposition and respiration. Soil compaction also occurs off of the trail so its best not to “bush wack” and stay on the trail. Hiking off the trail is also bad for the ecosystem because as you trample over young saplings and other vegetation you are killing those plants. Off trail hiking also causes erosion, and alters the hydrology of the ecosystem as the form of the landscape is changed.

Fires lit in campsites from hikers have multiple effects on an ecosystem. To burn the organic material within a forest reduced the nutrient pool for the rest of the plants in that ecosystem. Burning these plants also releases CO2 into the atmosphere which adds to green house gas emissions. Also taking wood from the forest floor frequently from hikers in one spot also causes soil erosion, because this heavy woody material helps hold soil on the surface back from runoff water that would pick up sediments and run them downhill. Having fires in the forest also puts the forest at risk of a wildfire. It’s important while having a fire in the forest to ensure when put out all of the fire is completely out and no longer smoldering. Forest fire fighters know that sometimes when they think a fire is out it might actually still be burning in the soil and will start up again if not fully extinguished. Forest fires are bad for the environment because they release CO2 gas into the atmosphere and destroy natural ecosystems. Although forest fires can be detrimental, there are organisms which have evolved from a history of fire and depend on a regular burn. Examples of some of these plants include the Lodgepole pine and the Eucalyptus. These plants require a burning in order for their seed to be able to germinate and produce a plant. The invasive Eucalyptus plant has actually become a problem in California. This plants leaves and fruit are coated in a resin layer that is extremely flammable, the people of California have introduced this plant as an agricultural decoration. As the plant liters its leaves and a fire occurs the Eucalyptus’s liter becomes a source of fuel for fire; which is not ideal for the people of California experiencing a battle with wildfires throughout the last dry season.

Eucalyptus Tree