Avoid encounters and do your part to protect wildlife in Eagle County year-round (letter)
February 22, 2018
Dear editor: I attended the town of Vail's presentation at the community wildlife forum on Thursday Jan. 18, and found the presentation very sobering. Our wildlife is declining.
The presenters were Bill Andree, Kelly Colfer, Rick Thompson and Jen Austin, all notables in their fields, respectively. They all alluded to the foremost problem of loss of wildlife being due to loss of natural habitat because of human population growth and human land needs.
For those who did not attend the meeting, here are some of the facts I gleaned from the presenters:
• A significant decline is in the elk herd that winters in the Minturn area. Using aerial counting methods the herd has declined from, quoting Andree, 1,400, plus or minus, in the 1990s to merely 300, plus or minus, now. Andree reported, "The decline is not unique to the Minturn area. … The decline we are seeing in the elk herd goes from Vail Pass to Aspen." The elk in the Edwards area were too few to count.
• Thus owing to building and habitat loss, the size of the East Vail bighorn herd could be wiped out by a single hard winter. This has been a mild winter.
• Feral cats impacted bird life.
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• Jen Austin reported that in setting up cameras in the North Trail area, which is the north side of Vail, 189 people were observed, all with dogs off leash, between May 22 and May 31. This is a closed trail for mule deer migration.
There were many examples, far too many to mention here. If large animals are being affected, small animals are, as well. So, what can we all do to help our wildlife? Here are just a few simple suggestions to help maintain what we now have.
• First and foremost is just stay away from animals, winter and summer. They are existing on starvation amounts of food trying to eat enough to stay alive. Loss of habitat from building makes finding food difficult. Moving animals burn precious calories. If the animal moves, you are too close. The animal just walking away from you burns calories. All they want to do is eat and rest. Pictures with telephoto lenses are great. Lessen the stress.
• Fragmented habitat forces wildlife onto roads. Drive respectfully. Give the animal an escape route. Slow down.
• Pick up trash from trails and trailheads. The plastic bag your peanut butter sandwich was in smells like food to wildlife. Plastic clogs their digestion, and they often die.
It takes 400 years for a plastic water bottle to degrade. Please recycle or take your own container … landfills take up room.
• Just police yourself and stay out of closed trails. Wildlife needs the winter habitat, not you. Often you violate calving areas. In the Aspen groves, the doe needs to eat the aspen bark, which has a natural painkiller in the bark, to lessen the pain from calving. Then, the newborn needs to be raised, stressing her to find even more food.
• Education is most important. Dr. Kim Langmaid has founded and developed the Walking Mountains Science Center. It is wonderful for youngsters to get involved in nature. Adults can also profit from going to the offered programs. Naturalists give tours every day and there are many school programs summer and winter.
• Keep your dog on a leash or under strict control.
• Think hard about tearing up habitat for housing. Let's find another way to house people. Automate; need less people.
• Restrict the building of trophy homes in wildlife habitat.
One suggestion from a presenter is to take a large tract for housing and build only in one corner, allowing the wildlife to use the rest of the tract. Hopefully there will be more programs from the aforementioned presenters. We need to hear this again!
Obviously, there are many more suggestions. We need to work together to implement solutions if we want any wildlife in our future.