Trust Our Land: Eagle Valley Land Trust is working to protect wildlife in Eagle County (column) | VailDaily.com

Trust Our Land: Eagle Valley Land Trust is working to protect wildlife in Eagle County (column)

Jessica Foulis
Trust Our Land

Dawn Reeder | Eagle Valley Land Trust Buchholz Winfrey Ranch, conserved by the Eagle Valley Land Trust in 2017, protects more than 1,500 acres of wildlife habitat in Eagle County.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Vail Daily recently released some disturbing news that our local elk populations have dropped by 50 percent since 2007.

Unfortunately, these animals haven't moved somewhere else; the herd has slowly decreased due to a variety of factors. Habitat loss, fragmentation and disruption are leading causes of wildlife declines worldwide. Even areas as dedicated to thoughtful planning, habitat health and conscientious growth as Eagle County are not immune to these issues. Fortunately, our community is working toward solutions.

You have likely noticed the spring trail closures countywide over the past few months. These closures are critical to the survival and success of the remaining elk in Eagle County. Put simply, humans nearby, regardless of their activity, stress wildlife such as deer and elk. Thus, to protect the wildlife that we love, we must give them space.

Buchholz Winfrey Ranch

In a county with a population expected to double in 35 years, available space is not something we have in abundance. However, there are several important corridors, calving grounds and riparian access points, all of which are disproportionately important for wildlife survival, that we can choose to protect.

Buchholz Winfrey Ranch, protected by the Eagle Valley Land Trust in 2017, is a great example. By working with the land trust to conserve their land, the ranch owners permanently conserved more than 1,500 acres of wildlife habitat. By choosing not to allow public access on their land, the owners have created a functional sanctuary for wildlife.

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This type of protection is not possible, realistic or desired on all the lands where wildlife roam, but our community has continued to push for improved management techniques to balance the needs of wildlife with recreation and agriculture. Another conserved piece of land, Hardscrabble Ranch, is composed of overlapping wildlife habitat and world-class multiuse trails. Eagle County Open Space is meticulously designing a management plan with input from the community to balance the needs of wildlife with the recreational desires of the community.

Over the past three years, the Land Trust has been a principal partner in Eagle County's wildlife linkages study seeking to identify opportunities to reconnect critical migration routes that have been severed by our county road systems. The partnership, which includes Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and others, anticipates finalizing a prioritization of potential projects near Edwards, Wolcott, Vail, Gypsum, Minturn and Eagle in the near future.

The findings will help inform countywide planning and provide a roadmap for protecting important wildlife habitat and migration corridors.

So, what can you do to support wildlife recovery in Eagle County?

• Respect trail closures, and encourage your trail buddies to do the same.

• Advocate for wildlife-sensitive land management practices countywide.

• Learn about local land-conservation tools.

• Support local conservation initiatives and fundraising programs.

Jessica Foulis is the stewardship and outreach manager at the Eagle Valley Land Trust. She can be reached at jfoulis@evlt.org. For more about the Eagle Valley Land Trust and how its conserving land and benefiting the community, visit http://www.evlt.org.