Voice your opinion, keep Eagle on the wild side | VailDaily.com

Voice your opinion, keep Eagle on the wild side

Debbie Comerford
Special to the Daily

I’m a wildlife animal lover. Some people call it a passion. My kids call it crazy, but humor me. Whatever it’s called is not nearly as important as that I can find so many opportunities to experience wildlife in our area.

These encounters bring a smile to my face: the thrill of seeing a small herd of elk, resting on the Allen Conservation Easement, next to Eagle Ranch; the daily encounters of the fragile and shy mule deer in the cemetery or the Golden Eagle Senior Center complex; the first bald eagle cruising Brush Creek in the early winter; the first great blue heron signaling the onset of spring; the great horned owl sitting on a fence post scanning the fields; the unmistakable howls of the coyotes at any time in the night; the fleeting glimpse of a red-tailed fox darting across the corner of a pasture. They add to my love of the valley and my “quality of life.”

Seeing the wildlife in our valley gives me a connection to nature and reconfirms my decision to continue to live here.

Even though a large number of people have recently found our lovely valley, I still feel very fortunate and excited every day to be a part of these Kodak moments and memories. And it helps me understand other peoples’ desire to be a part of this valley and their wanting to share in this quality of life.

We are surrounded by our Rocky Mountains, and are very fortunate that so much of the land around Eagle is either Forest Service, State Parks, or Bureau of Land Management lands. This government-owned open space provides our wildlife with ample opportunity to flourish and thrive in the spring, summer, and fall months.

But in the winter, the wildlife needs the lower valleys, south-facing hillsides, and valley floors for wind protection, safety, access to food and water, and well, just plain easier living out of the deep snows in the mountains.

This is where our human needs conflict with their survival needs. We are building homes in places they have migrated to for winter survival. Hence, we have all of our wildlife trying to adapt to us, our homes, our fences, and our subdivisions. Amazingly, they are adapting. They are learning that they can move into our areas despite our growth. This winter proves this point. I can’t remember when I have seen so many deer and elk this close to Eagle. The hay meadows and golf courses, the sunny southern exposed hillsides, and the open spaces, give them an easier opportunity to survive the winter.

But the opportunities for them are becoming more limited. As development moves in, as the pressure for more housing continues to crowd our valley floors, the wildlife will be forced further from their easier survival areas and we will lose an important part of what makes the Brush Creek area special; what brings us here, and what keeps us here.

My wonderful friends and neighbors share my vision. They have helped start a grassroots volunteer group called “Eagle Valley Habitat for Wildlife.” (Please look for more to come on this group) We would like to keep the wildlife in our valley and provide them with an opportunity for preservation and protection. We can co-habitate. We can keep them in our pictures, our view corridors, and in our valleys. But it will take some work and we need your help.

The Committee to Update the Eagle Area Community Plan has started the process of updating the 1996 Community Plan, which outlines citizens’ preferences for growth in our area. The committee members want to know what is important to us in the valley and set guidelines based on citizen input.

We have very few opportunities to make a real difference in what our future looks like, what we hope the future generations will see and marvel at. I want wildlife to be part of that future and so do many of my neighbors and friends. We have that opportunity now. And since there are very few areas of open space remaining in the area, it is critical that we take this opportunity to let the committee members know what matters to us.

I don’t mean to exclude housing, future growth, or more people becoming part of our community. Rather, let’s learn to work with the wildlife that is trying to live with us in what was, and still is, their backyards.

By providing the wildlife with migratory corridors, some open space, and access to the sunny southern hillsides, we can ensure their futures too. Possibilities to achieve these goals are: clustering homes; leaving more open space; locating roads for fewer wildlife crossings to get to water and safety; putting residential density closer to town and leaving wildlife more open space in areas more vital to their success.

There are solutions to all our needs. But we must let the town and the citizens committee know that this issue is important to us. So please attend the open house meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at Eagle Town Hall, and let the members know we care about our wildlife.

In retrospect, the first committee cared about wildlife and made it a priority. The fact that the animals are here now shows us that. But it has not been enough. Soon the animals will not have a clear access to the Allen Conservation Easement space next to Eagle Ranch. Where will they go then?

Eagle Valley Habitat for Wildlife will take on the commitment, this time, to follow through and make sure, to the best of our abilities, that every decision reflects protection and preservation of our wildlife.

We will work with the Division of Wildlife to come up with a comprehensive plan and put it into effect. But again, we need your help. To get to the planning stage, we must first become a priority in the Eagle Area Community Plan Update process.

Please help us encourage the citizens committee members to prioritize wildlife as an important part of our vision of the future. Eagle citizens showing up at this open house and expressing this vision is crucial to our plan and the first step.

If wildlife moments define or enhance your quality of life, if it leaves a smile on your face, and if you want to ensure that future generations will have this marvelous opportunity to see nature in our valley, please take the 15 minutes to let the Eagle Area Community Plan Advisory Committee Members know that you care about wildlife. Please tell your friends and neighbors and I hope to see you there.

Debbie Comerford is a member of the Eagle Valley Habitat for Wildlife.

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