Elk get reprieve from Edwards ranches | VailDaily.com

Elk get reprieve from Edwards ranches

EDWARDS ” The elk in the mid-valley caught a break Tuesday, but it may be temporary.

Worries about local elk herds migrating through Lake Creek led to a unanimous vote by the Eagle County Commissioners to deny a development plan for the Palmerosa Ranch up Lake Creek.

That proposal, by developer Jim Comerford, had been vigorously opposed by immediate neighbors of the ranch and other Lake Creek residents, most of whom urged the commissioners to protect the elk.

“Somebody’s got to say no for the sake of wildlife,” neighbor Susan Miller said.

Opposition to the Palmerosa project may have sparked the beginning of a drive to make the relatively small ranches ” most of which are 50 acres or smaller ” more friendly to wildlife.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

After a commissioners’ meeting in December, Comerford and his development team met with several neighbors to try to forge a group effort to put up more wildlife-friendly fences and take other steps to make the valley an easier place for animals to live.

“We built our 3,500-square-foot home in Lake Creek in 1999, and now I wish someone had held our feet to the fire a little more about the elk,” Mary Ellen Cope said.

The Copes’ home is right in the middle of an elk migration path, she said, which means the animals come past her house every day, and dig up landscaping.

“If I had it to do over, I’d move my house 50 feet,” Cope said.

Room for elk?

Rachel Nelson grew up in Lake Creek with her father, Chupa Nelson.

“I’ve watched Lake Creek grow and encroach upon wildlife. This will impact wildlife,” Nelson said.

But Dominic Mauriello, the land planner who worked on the Palmerosa project for Comerford, said the plan the commissioners saw Tuesday was sensitive to wildlife.

The size of the proposal had dropped over the past few months from eight home sites, then to five home sites with room for “accessory” units, then ultimately to five homes on less than four acres.

“I really think we’ve gone out of our way to address your concerns,” Mauriello said.

Even a proposal for five homes struck neighbors as too much building on the property, with most who spoke favoring no more than three homes.

Miller, who split her similarly-sized property into three pieces a few years ago, said that should be the standard.

And Bill Heicher, a retired wildlife officer who reviewed the project at no charge for Chupa Nelson, said dropping two of the proposed home sites would probably be best for local wildlife.

‘We’ll try again’

Don Welch and Bob Dorf, the real estate agents who listed the Palmerosa, said concerns about elk migration were overblown. Dorf, who now lives in Eagle, said the herd of 200 or so elk that winter at Eagle Ranch seem to get along fine. That brought a sharp response from local wildlife officer Bill Andree.

“That’s bull,” Andree said. “People still live in Chernobyl, but that doesn’t mean they’re comfortable.”

Elk do what they have to do to get by in the winter, Andree said.

“They’re on a starvation diet in the winter,” he said. “Every time elk expend themselves, that increases their calorie output.” That, he said, affects the pregnant females most of all.

After staying silent through more than three hours of hearing, Commissioner Tom Stone moved to deny the plan, saying it isn’t compatible with surrounding land uses and would have too great an effect on wildlife. Commissioners Peter Runyon and Arn Menconi quickly agreed.

While this project was shot down, Comerford said he’s not finished trying to develop the Palmerosa.

“We’ll try again,” he said. “I love the property, and I plan to build a house for myself there.”

Staff writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624 or at smiller@vaildaily.com

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


Support Local Journalism