Letter: For our valley wildlife, a steep price to pay
To extirpate, according to the dictionary: to root out and destroy completely; synonyms: eradicate, eliminate, wipe out. Not a word one expected to hear from wildlife biologists at Vail’s second annual Wildlife Forum on Wednesday at Donovan Pavilion. But it was a word used, more than once, to describe threats to our Eagle County elk, deer and bighorn sheep herds. Human intrusion into critical animal habitats, whether by recreationists or development, have reduced deer and elk populations to numbers where their very presence here is threatened. Elk herds both north and south of Interstate 70 are now counted in the tens where as recently as 15 years ago numbers were well over 1,000.
Additionally, a workforce housing project north of the East Vail I-70 exit in the bighorns’ limited critical winter range, we were told, threatens to extirpate the herd there. Loss of this herd that is beloved by residents and guests is a steep price to pay for this sorely-needed housing. It’s the right project but in the wrong place. Further threatening the bighorns is planned development by the town of Vail at the west end of the bighorn sheep’s winter range at the town’s public works yard.
Other major threats to our deer and elk include Golden Peak expansion as a day and night ski and snowboard training center, and calling for the cutting of hundreds of aspen on the peak. This sizable development will make it even harder for deer and elk to find forage, rest and shelter. As if this were not enough, the Forest Service is contemplating permitting the building of a steep, switch-backed 4-mile road through the national forest above Edwards’ north side, an area used by deer and elk as winter range. This road would provide access to Berlaimont, an in-holding in the forest purchased by speculators seeking to sell 19 home sites of at least 35 acres to investors. If we were bent on extirpating the remnants of our deer and elk, we could hardly do a better job than these added developments at this time on both the north and south sides of the interstate.
Then we have the last remaining nesting pair of peregrine falcons in the Gore Creek Valley who abandoned an annually used nest site and eggs after four weeks of care last Memorial Day, coincidentally just as a noisy East Vail sewer line replacement was at a peak of disruption on the south side of exit 180. The next two months will indicate whether we have successfully extirpated this species from our valley.
Knowledgeable biologists tell us, however, we will continue to have growing numbers of pesky bears, mountain lions and moose in our valley, even near our homes, as many benefit from pet and bird food, as well as our pets themselves, our trash, barbecues, lawns and gardens. I think few of us moved or visit here for these experiences, though many did for the very deer, elk and bighorns we are wiping out. Watch out — the next critter we extirpate may well be the golden goose from whom so many of us have prospered.