Vail Daily letter: Hidden Gems proposal would be good for hunting
Vail, CO, Colorado
Recently, some contributors to this paper and others have written to express their opposition to new wilderness designations in the White River National Forest and elsewhere by using a simple but spurious argument regarding the impact of roads, trails and motorized vehicles on big game, implying that OHVs don’t negatively impact wildlife because they, for example, observe bighorn sheep along Interstate 70 in the Georgetown area, elk in Estes Park, mountain goats on Mount Evans Road, bison walking down the road in Yellowstone, etc.
Apparently these people don’t realize that animals in national parks and in other places where hunting is not allowed (or not practical) soon lose their natural survival instincts (i.e., fear of predators, like man) and, yes, oftentimes become accustomed to motorized vehicles.
But the vast majority of wild animals do not live in parks and along roadsides, and they fear and flee from motorized vehicles. Part of keeping good, healthy big game herds (in particular, elk) on national forests and other public lands is to make sure they have ample secure habitat – big, wild country with large blocks of land without motorized disturbance.
In fact, closing or decommissioning roads has been found to increase elk survival and the number of bulls, extend the age structure, increase hunter success and allow elk to remain in preferred habitat longer. Studies have also recommended closing entire areas to motorized use – as opposed to individual roads – to best promote healthy elk populations.
Still more studies show that when disturbed by a hiker, mountain biker or a person on horseback, elk move from 500 to 1,000 yards. When disturbed by an ATV, elk move an average of 2,000 yards! So what do elk think of ATVs? They don’t like ’em, for good reason. Elk are more likely to die young in areas where they are disturbed by ATVs.
On heavily roaded landscapes, which most Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands are (in Colorado, for example, only 8 percent of Forest Service lands lie more than a mile from a road and only 4 percent for BLM lands), elk find themselves lethally sandwiched between aggressive harassment by motorized invaders and decreased hiding cover.
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers member Bill Sustrich says, “During the past decade, I have personally had six out of seven elk hunts ruined by the careless intrusions of ATV operators. This epidemic has forced me to abandon one prime hunting area after another, only to encounter the same situation elsewhere.”
Currently, a mere 3 percent of Colorado is designated as wilderness, the gold standard for wildlife habitat and hunting grounds, and Bill Sustrich hit the nail on the head when he said, “The fact is, nothing yet created by mankind can offer the degree of wildlife refuge as that provided by wilderness designation.”
David A. Lien
Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers