Effects of human state park visitation rates on escape behavior of white-tailed deer

Nicholas M Sutton, Edward J Heske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


State parks are typically established to preserve natural or native habitats for wildlife while simultaneously providing recreational experiences for humans. However, because of their proximity to urban centers, the level of human visitation associated with state parks may be highly variable. Little information has been published regarding the effect of human visitation levels on wildlife escape behavior in state parks. We evaluated flight initiation distances (FIDs) and buff er distances (i.e., the difference between alert and flight distances) for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus; deer) from September 2013 to August 2014 at 3 state parks in east-central Illinois with different human visitation rates. Deer FIDs were lower in a high-visitation park and higher in a low-visitation park. The buff er distances were higher in a high-visitation park and lower in a low-visitation park. Other social (sex, group size, presence of juveniles) and environmental (cover, weather, season) variables that might affect escape behavior did not account for the relationships with park attendance. These results suggest that deer within state parks either habituate to human activity or spatially segregate based on personality (e.g., degree of shyness or boldness). Based on our findings, high levels of human visitation in parks can have a significant impact on the behavior of local wildlife.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-98
Number of pages13
JournalHuman–Wildlife Interactions
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017


  • INHS
  • Human-wildlife interaction
  • Escape behavior
  • State parks
  • Fl ight initiation distance
  • White-tailed deer
  • Odocoileus virginianus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Ecology


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