Letter: Sacrifice elk for more trails?
Has anyone else noticed fewer elk here in recent winters? This winter they broke off into small pods of one to four, were around all day, getting picked off by predators and vehicles. Three elk were killed in 24 hours in the same exact spot in February.
Something is wrong.
I wondered why, and began to check into it. I was surprised to learn one recreation trail is still open during winter, in a historic elk resting and birthing area. Trail cams caught 87% of dogs running off-leash on it. Trail ambassadors intervened and it reduced to 62% a few months later. I met to become a trail ambassador and was stunned to learn it was more about the health of the trails than the elk.
Soon the elk could face more disruption in what’s supposed to be their protected refuge (open space) — the building of 23-plus more miles of trails, parking lots, public bathrooms, trailhead lighting, paved paths, professional outfitters profiting from the land, camping and fire-rings, if the town of Eagle adopts the new Open Space and Trails Plan on May 31.
My husband explains it like this: The elk are like salmon; they keep coming back to where they were born, but they see all these people whizzing by, so they become too spooked and stressed to survive.
There are only a few dozen elk left in Vail now, when there used to be thousands. There’s a link between trail use and elk survival rates: A CSU study in the Vail area observed the Elk calf/cow ratio plummeted by nearly 40% as a result of human trail use during calving season.
“We are not seeing the animals migrate to another area or permanently move somewhere else,” said Craig Wescoatt, a local wildlife manager with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “They are just dead and gone.”