Letter: A plea for wild sheep
The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep is an indispensable member of the greater East Vail ecosystem. Bighorn Creek, Bighorn Park, Bighorn Road — all named after the distinguished and now threatened Gore sheep herd.
In 2020, I drew one of three sheep tags, which gave me access to hunt these most sacred and respected animals. Friends and family spent the next four and a half months helping me scour these mountains in search of a mature ram — 8 1/2 years old or older.
The journey that these sheep make over a 12-month period will astonish you. The terrain in which 2-month-old lambs navigate with ease would make you wince with uncertainty. From the July snowfields in Pitkin to some of the gnarliest nooks and crannies found in the Gore Range — these sheep are thriving. They thrive due to the combined efforts of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the town of Vail, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, the revenue generated from license applications and fees, and most importantly — preservation of their winter range.
But most people will never know, nor understand how miraculous “our” Gore sheep herd is. And as magnificent and enduring as they are, bighorn sheep have their limits.
History and science support the effort to preserve this land that these sheep call home. I am one of the many that have had the unfortunate necessity of working for Vail Resorts, and I can’t help but make a plea on behalf of the wild sheep that call East Vail home. We have all been impacted by Vail Resorts employee housing in some way, shape, or form, and to say this would have “no impact” on our bighorn neighbors, in their most vulnerable months, is simply untrue and ignorant.
Rob Katz is quoted on Vail Resort’s EpicPromise website, stating: “The environment is our business, and we have a special obligation to protect it. As a growing global company so deeply connected to the outdoors, we are making a commitment to address our most pressing global environmental challenge and protect our local communities and natural resources.”
I would challenge Vail Resorts to live up to the EpicPromise stated above. Sacrificing our wild sheep population is just another band-aid, but will not resolve your larger widespread issues. We need real and creative solutions that do not sacrifice our most vulnerable resources that have no voice: our wildlife populations and the land on which they live.
For those folks in our community who agree, I would ask that you use your voice and stand up for “our” sheep herd. Encourage Vail Resorts to build at alternate and available employee housing locations. Who will stand on the side of those who were here first? Our native wild species have no other voice other than those of us who truly feel that “the environment is our business, and we have a special obligation to protect it.”
If we cannot come together as a community in the name of conservation, then we all fall short of our duty to preserve what’s truly epic.