New online tool maps Eagle County wildlife habitat, migration and more
Wildlife Interactive Map called a ’game changer’ for land-use planning
Eagle County has an impressive array of easily accessed mapping tools that depict everything from home sale specifics, to neighborhood amenities to wildfire dangers. Now there is a new option in the county’s mapping toolbox that details land use patterns for the county’s most senior population.
The county’s new Wildlife Interactive Map provides information to help humans understand the region’s complex wildlife issues. Scott Fleming of the county’s GIS department began work on the project back in the fall of 2020.
“This tool can be for just about anyone,” said Peter Sunseson, a member of Eagle County’s recently formed Community Wildlife Roundtable. “What this does is allow us to see where wildlife live and where they move, superimposed on the county map.”
“This is a tool that local governments, land planners, trail users, developers, hunters, naturalists, and even everyday hikers can use right now to understand how our actions might impact our wild neighbors,” said Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr.
Scherr said the challenge for the map design team was to transform existing Colorado Parks and Wildlife research — which he described as data that that only a scientist could appreciate — into an interactive map that any community member can access and understand.
That information is live and can be viewed at arcgis.com.
Roundtable in action
Scherr said the Wildlife Interactive Map is the work of a Community Wildlife Roundtable subcommittee. The roundtable was formed last year “to move toward positive action and enduring solutions to the complex wildlife issues in Eagle County.”
The roundtable began over coffee.
“Kim Langmaid, Aaron Mayville, Adam Palmer, and I had seen wildlife on the front page of the newspaper seemingly every other day a couple of years ago — the Booth Heights proposal and its potential impact on bighorn sheep, public concern about the Berlaimont project’s impact on elk, new trail proposals in wildlife habitat,” Scherr explained
“I am pretty sure one of us said ‘We can’t let this crisis go to waste,’” Scherr continued. “After seeing the growth of our wildlife-loving community so frequently in conflict with that very wildlife, we wondered how we could translate that sensibility for wildlife into real action, policy, or something that could help us actually support that value of care for wildlife, rather than watch it slowly suffer by 1,000 mitigations.”
Scherr noted the initial discussion didn’t uncover an answer, but it did spur work toward a solution. Eagle County agreed to fund facilitation — provided by staffer with the National Forest Foundation — for a stakeholder group. That group evolved into Community Wildlife Roundtable, which explores how the community can find ways to improve its wildlife coexistence. The roundtable has four working committees focused on the following topics:
- Land use planning
- Education/outreach and human/wildlife management
- Habitat management
The new Wildlife Interactive Map was the work of the land use planning committee.
“The idea behind the roundtable, and behind the map, is for policy makers and community members to have a neutral source of good information about where wildlife are, their migration routes, and more that can be used in land-use decisions and other purposes,” said Eagle County Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry. “I think this can be a real game-changer.”
The online tool includes 17 layer options — information that includes everything from bald eagle nesting sites to wildlife safe passages. It shows severe winter range and concentration areas and its primary focus is elk, deer, bighorn sheep and lynx data.
There are some interesting challenges involved with mapping out wildlife behavior versus human activity. Wildlife naturally don’t respect county boundaries, so areas of impact depicted on the map extend for five miles beyond Eagle County’s borders.
Scherr believes the availability of the Wildlife Interactive Map data is a vital step toward better land use decisions related to wildlife issues.
In illustration, Scherr noted that during Vail’s Booth Heights debate, the developer was following town code and did not intend to adversely impact the bighorn herd. But potential bighorn sheep impacts were a top concern for community residents.
“How is a developer to know what impacts to wildlife will be or what the community is OK with, relative to impacts?” Scherr said. “Towns are used to having land use codes that tell them if a development meets certain standards, but what is the standard for wildlife impact?”
He believes if towns develop wildlife standards and if developers have a map showing where impacts can be expected, better land use decisions for both people and wildlife will result.
“I think we’ll be discovering more value from the Wildlife Interactive Map as time goes by, particularly if we are able to create functional standards for wildlife impact in land use, recreation and other areas,” Scherr said. “If it can help our community live out its values around wildlife, this work may be a template for other communities to do the same.”