Letter: Please, help us protect our herds | VailDaily.com

Letter: Please, help us protect our herds

This letter was originally addressed to Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Dept. of Natural Resources.

I’m a 45-year resident of Eagle County. I am a hunter and a fisherman and wildlife voyeur. I try to enjoy both activities ethically and with the conservation of these resources in mind.

I would like to draw your attention to an issue we in Eagle County are grappling with which poses a very serious threat to a big game population that is already in precipitous decline. I won’t bother you with the empirical data since this has been well documented by your own Wildlife Commission and Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists.

I hope that you can wield whatever influence you might have to impact a decision by the U.S. Forest Service on whether to allow a luxury home developer — with an inholding called Berlaimont — to build over 4 miles of two-lane paved road, smack-dab through the middle of what is now designated as critical winter range for deer and elk, as well as other sensitive species, including sage grouse and lynx.

With over 80,000 people moving to our state in 2018 alone, it would seem that the assumed manifest destiny of building and development, and the human activity and disturbance that follows, is putting greater and greater pressure on all of our natural resources. That’s where you come in.

The governor’s recent executive order, prioritizing the conservation of seasonal closures of wildlife habitat, winter range and migration corridors, was designed specifically for cases such as this. Approving this proposed Berlaimont road project is antithetical to the mission of your department and the Wildlife Commission, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, which is charged with the final decision.

The numbers are there … your own wildlife biologists have confirmed it time and again. As a hunter who has spent years in the field chasing deer and elk, I can tell you … they just ain’t there like they were in years past …and it breaks my heart, because it just doesn’t have to be.

This closure, on south-facing slopes north of I-70, is home to the second-largest migrating deer herd in Colorado. That’s exactly why the U.S. Forest Service — based upon input from your own people — designated this area as a winter wildlife closure in its official forest plan.  

And now, for the benefit of a single developer and 19 trophy homes — none of which will be primary residences — the Forest Service is considering lifting that closure to approve this damaging road.  It is critical that the Forest Service maintains this seasonal closure.

The impacts of a paved, year-round road and the required disturbance to build it — not to mention the more than 200 projected trips daily, will be devastating to the wildlife that need this undisturbed winter range in order to survive, to thrive and to propagate.

The Forest Service has received strong objections from Gov. Polis, Sen. Bennet and Rep. Neguse, as well as local representatives in the state Capitol. I would like to ask for your support as well, and if possible, your input to the Forest Service in the form of a strong letter opposing any decision that would abandon existing wildlife closures that are so critical.

Please help protect our herds. No one else can speak for the wildlife. You must not allow growth and development, not just in Eagle County, but across the state, to become a dangerous precedent that destroys what critical habitat we have left. Please uphold your mission to protect our natural resources.

Howard Leavitt

Avon