Letter: Protect Vail’s bighorn sheep for future generations

I applaud the Vail town Council for working to safeguard from development the Booth Heights parcel that is essential severe winter range for Vail’s Gores-Eagles Nest bighorn sheep herd. The Vail community and Coloradans across the state take great pride in conserving this iconic native herd of our state mammal. Throughout the town, numerous buildings and businesses incorporate “bighorn” into their names. Conservation of big game winter range and migration routes is a priority to the governor, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, too, as evidenced in the Executive Order (2019) and Big Game Policy Report (2021).

The independent expert wildlife biologists provided their opinions to the Planning and Environmental Commission and Town Council in 2019. They emphasized housing construction on this parcel will create an increased risk of extirpating the herd due to its very small winter range and limited transitional range and herd size.

This parcel is the herd’s severe winter range and is essential to the herd’s survival. Severe winter range is defined as the part of the overall range where 90% of the individuals are located when the annual snowpack is at its maximum and/or temperatures are at a minimum in the two worst winters out of 10.

According to the bighorn sheep experts, “This elevation and the persistence of deep snow into spring makes this herd particularly vulnerable to winter stresses from limited food sources.” And extreme temperature and winter snow variations must be anticipated in the years ahead due to climate change impacts. Further, it is well documented in scientific peer-reviewed studies that bighorn sheep — especially ewes, exhibit high fidelity to their range. In other words, bighorn sheep do not pioneer new range well.

I strongly urge that the Town Council protect this irreplaceable parcel for present and future generations to enjoy this bighorn sheep herd.

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Suzanne O’Neill, Executive Director, Colorado Wildlife Federation


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