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Sage brush to be restored near Eagle County airport

Derek Franz
dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.com
Vail, CO Colorado

GYPSUM, Colorado –The town of Gypsum and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management recently partnered up on a project to restore sage brush habitat south of Eagle County Regional Airport.

In April, Gypsum Town Council members approved tapping up to $12,000 from a wildlife impact fund to make the project possible. The fund is from a .01 percent property tax collected from certain subdivisions since 2005. The tax is intended to be used to offset the environmental effects of the developments. So far, about $89,000 has pooled in the fund and the current project is the first to make use of it, said Cindy Schwartz, Gypsum’s assistant town planner.

David Boyd with the BLM said the goal is to restore sagebrush habitat over about 160 acres in the course of five years.



“Ecologically, out there, there’s been a lack of natural fire for the last 100 years or so,” he said. “Pinon-juniper forest is taking over and there’s less food available for wildlife because there’s less low-growth, such as grasses, under the trees.”

Additionally, the project will reduce the risk of a “really big fire,” which can hurt wildlife habitat as well as threaten a community, Boyd said.



Once a cultural clearance study is complete sometime around this week, the project will proceed with the second phase after July 15. A cultural clearance is a field study to document any locations of human artifacts so that they are not disturbed by the work.

The reason phase two won’t begin until mid-July is because of a mandatory bird-nesting season, which lasts from May 5 through July 15. There will be other breaks in the project as well to accommodate hunting seasons. That’s partly why the work will be spread out over five years, Boyd said.

Phase two will entail thinning noxious weeds by spraying and then preparing the areas for reseeding by hand-cutting or using a machine called a hydroaxe to cut “natural patterns” in the growth.



“We don’t cut circles or squares – natural patterns are important,” Boyd said. He added that when the natural plants are rejuvenated, “it’s like a big ice cream store for deer and elk.”

The developments subjected to the wildlife impact fee include Airport Commerce Center, Airwalk Business Park, Buckhorn Valley/McHatten Creek, Fly-In Eagle Center, Nulle property (a.k.a. High Chaparral Ranch) and Saddle Ridge.

At the time Gypsum Town Council approved use of the funds, it was unclear if more funding would be needed through the Habitat Partnership Program, a branch of the Division of Wildlife. DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said it appears that extra funding won’t be necessary, so the project rests in the hands of Gypsum and BLM.

“It takes partnerships like this to do these habitat projects,” Boyd said.


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