Elk, or us, in the way?
Of course we all love the great outdoors here in the great outdoors. The question is: Is it the wilderness we like or just the back-to-nature ego boost we get from stampeding through the woods with unleashed dogs, decked-out mountain bikes and propane cookstoves? In other words, do we care about the forest and the animals who live there or do we just want go hiking – all the time, anywhere we want, regardless of what vital ecological cycles we may be threatening and interrupting? Apparently, some of us don’t care what nature’s up to when we get the itch to put hiking boot to hiking trail or bike tire to singletrack. The people who hung up signs protesting the seasonal closures in Eagle-Vail of a few local trails so elk could have their calves this spring don’t grasp the responsibility mountain residents take on when they flee the big city for the neighborhoods we’ve wrenched out of the wilderness. All of us here in the High Country are a little bit guilty, though probably not as selfish and apparently dim-witted as the aforementioned sign-posters. We’re culpable because to enjoy the nature surrounding us, we often end up damaging it, too – not necessarily by littering or cutting down trees, but just our presence can be harmful.
Few would argue that carving a massive complex of ski runs and chairlifts into the forest is the healthiest thing for a mountain and its inhabitants. But then again, there’s nothing like a powder day – and powder days are important, too. And just the sight of us, no matter how quietly we’re traipsing through the aspens, can scare an elk into abandoning its calf. But we came here to take long hikes in the woods and to climb fourteeners. A day among the soughing pines is what, hopefully, keeps us all a little more grounded than our friends rushing around in the cities and in suburbs. Wal-Marts and Home Depots are not exactly pretty when they’re plopped down underneath a spectacular ridge, but it’s nice for working folks to get a break from frankly exorbitant prices other stores in the valley have charged over the years. But whether it’s a urban or suburban attitude – or just plain stupidity – that’s infiltrating the mountains that get a bit less pristine with every new subdivision, we have to be vigilant in remaining sensitive to the wildlife and wilderness that we move here to commune with. We have to keep our garbage stowed away for the bear’s sake, stay off the paths and slopes at certain times of year so animals can give birth future generations, and hope that agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and state Division of Wildlife, which are supposed to show us how to take care of nature, even if it’s inconvenient to our hiking plans, know what they’re doing. M.Z.