A voice for the animals: How the Eagle County Community Wildlife Roundtable is shaping the community conversation
The wildlife in Eagle County relies on three basic needs: food, water and shelter. But that is being too simplistic. The needs wildlife has for survival is exceptionally complex, often more than we understand. Many local species are not doing well, and populations are decreasing. Most of the problems for wildlife has to do with people. Do your actions have a positive impact on Eagle County wildlife?
Humans have a huge impact on the health and safety of the various wildlife species found in the county. It does not matter if you are a resident, a visitor, or just driving through Eagle County — your activities have an impact on the health of all wildlife that lives here and their habitat.
A number of community members created a group in February 2020 called the Eagle County Community Wildlife Roundtable. There are more than 50 stakeholders that make up this group. They include agriculture, anglers, business/land development, citizen scientists, education, land trusts, landowners, local government (town, county and state), philanthropy, public lands and wilderness (federal and state), recreation, ski resorts, sportsmen and women, transportation, watershed management, and wildlife management (federal and state).
A number of the members are individuals who work with various state and federal agencies. Their jobs include wildlife managers, land managers, conservation specialists, biologists, and other officials in those agencies.
This group has identified and developed a shared vision, plan, and recommendations for actions that can be taken to monitor and improve the environment for wildlife. In January 2021, the Roundtable finalized a collaborative action plan that lists priority initiatives for the year to come. Our hope is that the Roundtable will be able to leverage the plan we developed to rally community support around issues that will initiate positive action and long-term solutions for the wildlife in our area.
The Roundtable will prioritize and focus our efforts using a partnership with the White River National Forest, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, and local government entities. The plan will also ensure that the community as a whole supports the Roundtable’s actions. The Roundtable’s vision is that the community will embrace the value of the diverse wildlife populations and will take action to protect and enhance wildlife and their habitat for future generations.
The Roundtable will focus on achieving and maintaining healthy populations of terrestrial and avian wildlife species, protecting wildlife from habitat fragmentation and other impacts, and enhancing important habitats such as breeding and reproduction areas, movement corridors, seasonal feeding areas, and riparian wetland areas. We will also emphasize conservation, coexistence, and wildlife policies that steward, enhance and protect wildlife populations in ways that are scientifically sound and supported by the community as a whole.
The Roundtable is composed of a number of committees and several ad-hoc committees that brainstorm, find consensus around, and begin operationalizing priority initiatives.
Education/Outreach and Human-Wildlife Management Committee
This committee will engage the public in Eagle County wildlife issues and assist decision-makers in mitigating human/wildlife conflict through education and outreach and serve as a voice for all wildlife.
This committee will publish a seasonal calendar of wildlife initiatives that incorporate educational, objective content to help the community understand wildlife. It will develop community resources for easily accessible information about wildlife, responsible recreation, and human/wildlife conflict mitigation.
A website is being created with the help of Walking Mountains Science Center to provide an easy portal to information about Eagle County wildlife. A brand identity/communications strategy is in process and our logo has been created to identify the Roundtable. Publications will be objective, educational, and help raise awareness of wildlife issues among the public.
The Roundtable will assist Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management, and the United States Forest Service with current education efforts.
The Roundtable aims to become a valuable resource for management agencies and can help them with their education and outreach. The Roundtable will engage in collaborative learning to stay current on wildlife science, policy, project implementation, and other topics.
Habitat Management Committee
The Habitat Management Committee aims to assess, understand, identify, and improve wildlife habitat in the valley to ensure long-term sustainability of wildlife populations. The committee will do this through enhancing habitat connectivity, improvements, and preservation, while being aware of plans or initiatives occurring on habitat areas.
The committee will gather information on existing habitat management projects, wildlife habitat requirements, recreational infrastructure/trails, and proposed development.
In coordination with the Land Use Committee, the Habitat Management Committee will develop an Eagle County-wide, interactive map displaying wildlife habitat, recreational infrastructure, and land use development. The Wildlife Interactive Map can be used to inform ongoing and future habitat management, recreation, and land use development efforts. This will be a useful tool for local government, state, and federal agencies, as well as nonprofit partners and help to identify and prioritize projects.
Land Use Planning Committee
The Land Use Planning Committee aims to encourage conscientious land use decisions that minimize negative impacts to wildlife habitat in the valley. The committee intends to engage with decision makers on land use and development, and to be a voice for wildlife in land use planning.
They will also assess community values for wildlife and land use development via a survey of Eagle County citizens. This will develop actual data on how the Eagle County community values wildlife and habitat.
The committee has a role to inform land-use regulations and planning consistent with the goals of wildlife interests and management. This information can be used as a resource and sounding board for decision-makers and can be the “voice for wildlife,” as land-use planning and decisions are considered.
This committee will develop best practices for balancing recreation with wildlife habitat protection. The committee will achieve this by focusing on where and how citizens are recreating, and concentrating on both consumptive recreation (hunting and fishing) and non-consumptive recreation (hiking, skiing, birding, and other similar activities).
The Recreation Committee will develop a multi-agency memorandum of understanding or other agreement to increase coordination related to enforcement of wildlife violations. With limited agency staffing, the committee believes that an innovative multi-agency agreement could help increase the capacity to effectively enforce wildlife closures and other violations.
An effort will be made to produce an innovative funding mechanism to support wildlife conservation, habitat enhancement, recreation, and educational initiatives in Eagle County.
The end result
The Roundtable hopes to help the Eagle County community to embrace the value of a diverse wildlife population and will bring about actions to protect and enhance wildlife and their habitat for future generations.
Many people move to this area to enjoy the natural environment and the scenery.
The need to protect and preserve wildlife and habitat is greater than ever. At the same time, recreation-related use and visitation is at an all-time high, which impacts recreation infrastructure and outdoor experiences across public and conserved lands. All this impacts the wildlife in Eagle County.
What can you do?
Get involved! Visit the Eagle County Wildlife Roundtable website eaglecountywildlife.org to find out what you can do to promote wildlife in Eagle County. Become involved as a citizen scientist in projects that help Eagle County wildlife. You can model behavior in your business, recreation, and personal activities that promote the overall health of wildlife and do not impact it negatively.
Future generations will know what you have done to protect and enhance wildlife and their habitat. Will you be one that promotes Eagle County wildlife?
Rick Spitzer is a renowned wildlife photographer and longtime local who lives in Wildridge. The Eagle County Community Wildlife Roundtable is a collaborative partnership with the White River National Forest, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, local government entities, community members, and citizen scientists.