Letter: Opportunity lost?
Much has already be written about the East Vail bighorn sheep herd. Notwithstanding the pleas of many, it seems that Vail Resorts, Triumph Properties and the town of Vail are marching down a path of no return. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
There is a choice: We can be destructive and shortsighted by destroying habitat, or — in the case of those who look the other way — by ignoring the problem, but wouldn’t it be better to be forward-thinking and proactive? It won’t take much to eliminate the herd. Only a small reduction in numbers, down to what scientists call “small population size,” will mean that the herd cannot replicate itself and extinction will then be inevitable. That will be the inescapable result of the proposed housing project that will eliminate upwards of 30% of the sheep’s critical effective winter foraging range.
But the sheep do not have to be sacrificed on the employee housing altar. This herd, which is the only surviving herd on the Western Slope, should be saved, embraced and protected as a precious community asset. But saving the herd will require either acquiring the project property or a conservation easement on it. That will take working with Vail Resorts and vision and political leadership which so far has been in short supply.
We shouldn’t write off Vail Resorts. In the past they have done the right thing by the community and the environment. Time and again, people have demonstrated that they care about what Rachel Carson called “the problem of sharing our earth with other creatures,” and that they are willing to make sacrifices on those creatures’ behalf. The town should talk to Vail Resorts immediately and see if they will do the right thing for the sheep and plan alternatives if they will not.
There are other things the town could do. It could adopt the herd and spread the word through its advertising campaigns that visitors could see these animals on visits to Vail. Advice could be solicited from the Colorado Wildlife Sanctuary as to how best to manage the site and a small viewing platform could be provided to give to visitors and locals alike the opportunity to see these magnificent animals. (The viewing platform would contain any wide-spread habitat destruction by confining human impact to a single site.) Signage at that site could inform visitors about the herd and their importance to the community and the State of Colorado, they are after all the official state animal.
School children could be encouraged to adopt individual members of the herd and community-wide programs could be set up to provide periodic maintenance and cleaning of key areas. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Agency could be called upon to provide necessary support. No-parking zones and remote parking sites could be provided to further reduce human impact.
It’s not too late to act. The question is whether people will step up to the plate and whether there is the vision, leadership and political will to save the sheep.
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