Increased foot traffic in the Boise Foothills is posing a problem to habitat health

Photo courtesy of Martha Brabec

The Boise community has the privilege of accessing its Foothills for a wide range of activities, but with an influx of out-of-state residents flocking to Idaho, a lack of knowledge about maintaining the local trails becomes a prevalent issue. 

When walking on the Boise Foothills trails, there is an entire ecosystem of plant and animal life that are at risk if not respected and utilized properly. 

The Boise Foothills are in the heart of the Great Basin Desert, and are no stranger to weeds. 

Due to the desert terrain, these weeds steal precious water resources from other native plants, increase fire frequency and decrease soil health. When the Foothills are green, it’s not a sign of a blooming and hydrated ecosystem. The color is actually due to the weeds.

“Trails act as vectors for weeds,” said Martha Brabec, Foothills restoration specialist.

Among many types of weeds are goatheads. When walking in the Foothills, one might notice goatheads and other invasive species clinging onto boots or pants. When carried on clothing off trail, those invasive species are spread all throughout the Foothills. As more people utilize the Foothills, the amount of invasive plant species only increases. 

In addition to people being vectors for invasive species, there is also the problem of overusing the Foothills, which leads to widening trails and more erosion according to David Gordon, manager of the Boise Ridge to River trail systems. 

Remedy efforts include revegetation directly adjacent to the trail to keep trail users on the designated path.

[Boise State students engage in restoration planting through the university’s Alternative Spring Break program.]
Photo courtesy of Martha Brabec

“Off-trail traffic is damaging rehabilitation efforts and erosion control,” Brabec said. “Native plants are an incredibly delicate ecosystem that are prone to damage by off-trail users.” 

Deserts are a biologically diverse ecosystem, and knowing about preventing local invasive species is vital towards keeping the wildlife safe and healthy.

Trail etiquette is the first thing to know before venturing on a morning walk or taking an afternoon bike ride. 

The most accessible resource to better understand the health of Boise’s trails is the daily updates on the Ridge to Rivers page, which provides trail updates as well as training videos on trail etiquette and how to be a sustainable user. 

When utilizing the Foothills, it’s important to remember these rules:

  1.  If your boots leave an imprint, the trail is too wet and not sustainable for use. Walking on wet trails results in the ground being more prone to erosion.
  1. Don’t make your own trail. This not only leads to confusion but also to the fragmentation of habitats as more people follow the new trails.
  1. Avoid riding or walking on the side of the trails. This is the cause of widening the trails  and destroying vegetation. For walkers, walk single-file for the same purpose. 
  1. Clean up after your dog and keep them leashed. Dogs are responsible for the transportation of invasive species at an extremely high rate. 

“Invasive species threaten the biodiversity of an ecosystem and biodiversity is essential for supporting all life on Earth, including humans,” Brabec said. “When we manage invasive species, we help facilitate more resilient and healthy natural areas that attract greater biodiversity of wildlife, insects, migratory birds, and more.”

Stay updated on Boise Parks and Recreations page this fall for volunteer efforts available to the public for Foothills restoration projects and invasive species removal.

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