Eagle eyes changes to open space closures | VailDaily.com

Eagle eyes changes to open space closures

EAGLE, Colorado – With avid recreationalists lobbying for a rules change and wildlife officials advising against it, Eagle officials have agreed to continue a conversation about whether or not to keep all of the existing Eagle Ranch seasonal open space closures in place.

The closures affect town open space tracts in the Eagle Ranch area and were part of the original subdivision agreement. The closures go into effect from Dec. 15 to April 15 each year and include all town open space lands located to the south and east of Eagle Ranch. The purpose of the restriction is to protect wintering wildlife.

However, over the past few years, some Eagle residents have lobbied to open up some of the area to provide snowshoe and cross country ski access. The town board agreed to discuss the idea and that conversation began this week during a Tuesday night meeting.

Mayor Ed Woodland said the reason for the consideration to gauge public interest in the issue and discuss the potential impact for wildlife.

“I think it is a pretty much foregone conclusion that it would be a benefit to folks, but will it be enough of a benefit to offset impacts to wildlife?” he said.

Some residents who live close to the open space areas said some of the trails are obviously more popular with animals and some are less used. They suggested opening up access in one of the areas where there is a smaller wildlife presence.

Megan Morrissey, who identified herself as an elite athlete, said she works out with a group that would benefit from easing up on the seasonal closures. She noted her group respects the seasonal closure laws, but often sees other people who ignore the rules.

“We live in a beautiful area and we would like to access the recreation,” she said.

But Craig Westcoatt of the Colorado Division of Wildlife argued that opening any of the trails during the winter would have an adverse effect. He said that people may not see animals in some of the areas, but that does not mean they aren’t there and that the range isn’t critical habitat.

“Wildlife hide from people. During bad winters, I count 600 animals in that area,” said Wescoatt.

He noted that the impact radius of a single hiking trail extends a half mile in both directions.

“I really think what people in Eagle want is to have a wild animal population. You are talking about taking habitat away,” said Westcoatt. “When you do that, the only thing that happens is animals are going to die.”

Town board members asked if the various habitat improvement projects Eagle has made would offset the trail opening impact. Wescoatt replied that all the improvement benefits could be erased with a single trail opening.

“This is where the animals have to be to survive the winter,” he said.

Town board member Scott Turnipseed noted that the town open space provides a 100-yard barrier from the community to U.S. Bureau of Land Management property, which is open to winter use.

“What strikes me, from a common sense standpoint, is you are saying we will be decreasing habitat. But the trails already exist except for the 100 yards through town open space,” said Turnipseed.

Town board members agreed that before making any decisions about open space closures, they needed to study available information.

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