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Elk settle on Eagle builder’s land

Special to the DailyElk in the lower Brush Creek Valley outside of Eagle have a grass-roots organization. the Eagle Valley Habitat for Wildlife, lobbying for them.
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EAGLE, Colorado ” The Brush Creek Valley floor is a great place to spend the winter ” especially if you’re an elk and there’s been lots of snow.

To illustrate the point, witness the large herd of animals that has set up camp in the open fields next to the Eagle Pool and Ice Rink. In fact, the very act of witnessing those animals spurred local residents to work on their behalf. They formed a grassroots group called Eagle Valley Habitat, and set out to find scientific support for the importance of the Brush Creek Valley as wildlife habitat.

Their efforts led them to wildlife biologist Jerry Powell. His company ” Wildlife Specialties of Lyons, Colo. ” released a report, “Preserving the Town of Eagle’s Quality of Life by Protecting Wildlife Habitat in the Brush Creek Valley,” last week.

To compile his report, Powell scoured through reams of information regarding wildlife in the valley. He studied volumes of Colorado Division of Wildlife data, as well as available GIS and mapping information. The end result is a compilation of decades of data.

What conclusion did Powell draw from all this data:

Valleys such as this have provided critical habitat for wildlife for millennia; only in modern times have wildlife and habitat been under constant pressure. There can be no dispute that the protection of this habitat is and will be a factor contributing to the quality of life for all the town of Eagle and Eagle County’s residents and visitors, wildlife included.

The use of that word “critical” may generate some argument. The Colorado Division of Wildlife doesn’t classify the hay fields and open areas that line the Brush Creek Valley floor as “critical wildlife habitat.” But Powell argues the reason it doesn’t is more of a political reality than a scientific one.

“Historically, the agency doesn’t classify agriculture lands as critical; but will the preservation of the Brush Creek Valley help wildlife? Yes, it will,” he notes.

Powell said the land’s value extends beyond its importance to deer and elk. For instance, if elk are pressured, they will compete with deer for food. Then, the loss of deer in an area will impact birds and reptiles and other species.

He calls the valley extremely important, biologically, especially since development in Eagle County has pressed and pressed other habitat.

“Town is now closer to places that used to be undeveloped,” he says. “We are already seeing impacts to the movement of animals, and more seriously, their food.”

When asked to point to another Colorado mountain valley that could provide a model for conservation of Brush Creek, Powell is stymied.

“But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen here. Just for the scenic values alone, Brush Creek should be preserved,” he says. “It’s one of the last areas of its kind left undeveloped.”

How has Powell’s report been received by the wildlife experts? Randy Hampton, public information officer for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, says the agency views Powell’s work as a valid study of Brush Creek wildlife.

Hampton particularly addressed the issue raised in Powell’s report about designation of areas as “critical wildlife habitat.” He concurred that the agency doesn’t place that definition on private lands in agricultural uses.

“We can’t count on it as critical winter range, so we don’t designate it as such,” he said. “That said, there is still tremendous value in that land.”

Hampton says the Division of Wildlife will strongly support any efforts that can keep the land open and available for wildlife.

“In the case that development is approved, the best we can do is work with the developer. As a wildlife agency we are going to push hard to be involved in the planning process.”

Deb Comerford, of Eagle Valley Habitat for Wildlife, says one of Powell’s key findings details the valley’s importance as a migration path. As the valley’s future is contemplated, Comerford says, it is vital to set aside particular routes.

Comerford says the report also delves into the community values surrounding wildlife. Community surveys have repeatedly shown that residents value wildlife and want to protect habitat.

A copy of Powell’s study is available on-line at the Eagle Valley Habitat for Wildlife website http://www.evhfw.org.


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