Letter: Forest Service needs to draw the line on Berlaimont
With so much going on in the news, it’s not unusual to lose sight of other important issues facing our valley. While we all continue to deal with challenges caused by COVID-19, not much has changed by way of threats and challenges to our environment and our wildlife. The pressures of human disturbance and development are ongoing.
Last month, a group of valley residents met by conference call with Scott Fitzwilliams, the White River National Forest supervisor, to discuss his upcoming decision regarding the proposed Berlaimont Estates subdivision, and the access road to the private inholding, which would cut across the national forest.
We presented Mr. Fitzwilliams with an additional 1,775 petition signatures from local residents who are vehemently opposed to the access road as proposed, due to its known wildlife and environmental impacts. These new signatures bring the total number of signers to over 4,200.
The Berlaimont parcel, north of I-70 in Edwards, is one of the last major migration corridors for deer and elk in our region, and sits right in the middle of critical winter range, as designated by the Forest Service’s own Forest Management Plan. The status of the area’s wildlife population has fallen even more since that designation was put in place.
According to the most recently available studies from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the mule deer population in the Upper Eagle Valley has been reduced by 48% since the 1980s, and the deer herd is currently below CPW’s population objective. Wildlife professionals believe that fragmentation and habitat loss from both development and recreation are the primary cause.
Further, a study by Rocky Mountain Wild shows a strong correlation between the amount of habitat fragmentation and the resilience of deer and elk populations. Although other factors played a small role, development was by far the most important cause of elk population decline. Increased development has led to large habitat areas being divided into small “islands” of habitat, and has also made moving between those areas more difficult for elk. The effect has been especially strong in lower-elevation winter habitat, which is critical to deer and elk survival.
The developer would like to pave a 4.5-mile road across our shared public lands, in order to enhance his ability to reap a profit from the sale of 19 luxury homesites. While the Forest Service is, by law, required to provide access to the owner for ‘reasonable use and enjoyment’, it has full discretion as to what type of road that entails.
A recent executive order from the governor prioritizing seasonal closures for protection of wildlife habitat, winter range and migration corridors, was designed specifically for cases such as this. Approving this proposed Berlaimont road project is antithetical to the mission of the CPW, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, which is charged with this final decision.
We are hopeful that Mr. Fitzwilliams will draw a line, by rendering a decision in favor of wildlife and the environment, thereby remaining true to the mission of the Forest Service.
Bill Andree, Eagle
Howard Leavitt, Avon