Skiers, elk meet in West Vail forest
VAIL – For years, Bob McClain relished watching elk in the forest behind his West Vail home while he had his morning cup of coffee. But about five years ago, skiers started cutting though the elk herd’s hangout in the national forest. McClain once watched horrified as skiers cut through a herd of elk just to see them scatter, he said. “These elk are already having a hard time in the winter,” McClain said. “And these guys skiing out there think it’s real funny.” Since then, McClain’s elk sightings have been few and far between, he said. The presence of skiers pushed the elk up the mountain where they could look for food and bed down in peace. But this year’s high snowfalls have pushed the elk back down the mountain, said Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. They’ve been pushed right back into McClain’s back yard, which borders Forest Service land. And when skiers seek a shortcut into the Intermountain neighborhood, just beyond Eagle’s Nest, they’re ducking Vail Resort’s ropes and entering elk country.
“We’ve got the biggest (ski) mountain in North America, we should give some room to the elk,” McClain said.While McClain wants the skiers to keep out, they’re allowed to be there, Hampton said. “Certainly it could disturb the animals, but there’s nothing illegal occurring,” Hampton said. The Forest Service land near McClain’s property is considered an “urban interface,” the spot where private property meets with town, state and federal lands that are open to the public. People also are allowed in the winter range where the animals concentrate to search for food and cover, said Liz Roberts, a wildlife biologist with the Forest Service. “We just hope they’re not bothering the elk,” she said. “There aren’t consequences for being close to the elk, but we don’t encourage it.”Get too close to the beasts and the division of wildlife could slap you with a fine for harassing the animals, Hampton said. McClain is also calling for Vail Resorts to dissuade skiers from sneaking out of bounds, but Vail Mountain doesn’t monitor its boundary area, said spokeswoman Anita Allen”We’re more concerned with the closed areas within the perimeter,” said Allen, who added there are gates and ropes along the boundary bearing signs notifying skiers they are leaving Vail Mountain at their own risk.
“We ask people not to duck the ropes, but they can,” Allen said. Though the human presence in elk territory is legal, it could have detrimental consequences on the herd when combined with a harsh winter, Hampton said. “We had heavy snowfall and cold weather earlier than usual, and the winter has the potential to stretch out, which could increase mortality,” he said.Animals may starve and cows will abort fetal fawns to save themselves, Hampton said. “We’ve built up every inch of the valley, and we need some room for them,” McClain said. “It seems like we could take care of the critters that live here.”Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vail, ColoradoNicole FreyVail DailyReporter(970) 949-0555, ext. email@example.com