Wetland disturbance from motorized vehicle use is a growing concern across the Appalachian coalfields of southwestern Virginia and portions of adjacent states, particularly as both extractive industries and outdoor recreation development expand in regional communities. However, few attempts have been made in this region or elsewhere to adapt approaches that can assist researchers and land managers in remotely identifying and monitoring wetland habitats disturbed by motorized vehicle use. A comparative analysis of wetlands impacted and unimpacted by off-road vehicle activity at a public recreation area in Tazewell County, Virginia was conducted to determine if and how a common, satellite-derived index of vegetation health, normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), can remotely detect wetland disturbance. NDVI values were consistently lower in wetlands impacted by several years of off-road vehicle use when compared to adjacent, unimpacted sites, with statistically-significant NDVI coldspots growing in size in impacted wetlands across the same time period. While considerations exist related to the resolution of data sources and the identification of specific modes of disturbance, NDVI and associated spatial analysis tools may provide a simple and cost-effective way for researchers and land managers to remotely monitor rates of wetland disturbance across mountainous portions of the eastern United States.
Smith, W. H. 2021. Remote Detection of Disturbance from Motorized Vehicle Use in Appalachian Wetlands. Virginia Journal of Science 72 (3-4): 20 pp. https://doi.org/10.25778/yq9h-nx52