Minturn Cemetery District vows to fix a fence which has proven deadly to wildlife
An estimated eight deaths have occurred in recent years
Locals are voicing their displeasure with a fence that has proven deadly to three different species of ungulates in Minturn.
John Sheehan, president of the Minturn Cemetery District board of directors, says the district will make adjustments to the deadly part of the fence, which was erected in an effort to protect the Minturn Cemetery from vandalism.
The most recent animal to die attempting to exit the Riverview Cemetery by jumping the fence was a bull moose on Jan. 11. But it was far from the first.
At a meeting in town on Wednesday, residents and town officials estimated the total number of animal deaths on the fence to be somewhere around eight.
“Previously, a grouping of elk impaled themselves in the fence including a pregnant female,” according to information from the town of Minturn. “Additionally, mule deer have been lost to the impalement of the fence.”
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The moose was discovered impaled on the fence by local resident Jim Gonzales, who said the animal died quickly.
“I’ve lived here all my life and I love wildlife, and it hits you right in the heart,” Gonzales said. “I actually put my hand on the moose and said a prayer for it.”
Gonzales called Devin Duval, a wildlife officer with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Duval said he arrived quickly and found the moose already dead.
“If the animal wasn’t dead when I showed up, it would have been euthanized, there’s really no other course of action in this case,” Duval said.
The animal was in such condition it was able to be donated and harvested, Duval said, calling that one positive outcome out of “an otherwise regrettable situation.”
Following the moose death, numerous community members contacted the town “asking if they can volunteer to help adjust the fence to make it more wildlife-friendly,” said Minturn Town Manager Michelle Metteer. “We’ve had folks volunteer their funds to help mitigate the issue, as well.”
The town has a fence code, which the cemetery fence may be violating if it is deemed to be too pointed, but the fence is located on land annexed into the town in 2018, giving it a “pre-existing non-conforming” designation with the town. That means, “if it wasn’t creating a nuisance, it could continue to exist,” said town attorney Mike Sawyer.
The fence could be, however, considered a nuisance, Sawyer said.
“This could be potentially prosecuted in municipal court for abatement,” Sawyer said. “It’s not often that one government prosecutes another government, but in light of the apparent history of what’s happening out with that fence, I think there’s a lot of evidence that could potentially come to bear on that.”
But Sheehan said he hopes that won’t be necessary.
“We have some ideas, I’m going to get with Devin, and we’re going to make this right,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan said cemetery vandalism is at an all-time high, so the district prefers to have the fence around the property.
“We’re trying to secure the cemetery and make it a beautiful place for the people in Minturn and the cemetery district to be laid to rest,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan proposed an idea to put a piece of channel iron over the top of the pointed part of the fence.
“Or maybe in some high spots, putting in a higher fence, but nothing dangerous,” he said.
But Sheehan stressed that he thinks a large part of the problem could be corrected by closing the vehicle-sized cemetery gate, while leaving open a small gate allowing people to pass through.
“I’ve never seen an animal jump in there, but I’ve seen them trying to get out, so I’d like to see that gate closed and leave that man-gate open, and have people access through that,” Sheehan said. “If there’s ADA issues, we just need a 24-hour notice.”