Letter: We’ve got to draw the line at Berlaimont
At a recent wildlife forum sponsored by the town of Vail, two veteran wildlife biologists, both with the Department of Parks and Wildlife, were laying out the grim numbers. Their current elk count in Eagle County had plummeted by 42%. Just 20 years ago the elk in the same area had been in the thousands. Now, they were numbered, in one unit, at less than one hundred. And, while my own time in the field told me something was amiss, nothing could have prepared me for a number like that.
The proposed Berlaimont Estates road would cut across nearly 5 miles of public land to access an isolated inholding that sits smack dab in the middle of “critical winter range” as designated by the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Management Plan. In addition to providing a home to a plethora of wildlife needing an undisturbed place to survive the harsh winter, it also sees the second-largest deer migration in the state.
Currently, the area of this proposed road is closed to all motorized traffic during the winter to protect this area when these animals are in their most vulnerable condition. If approved, the U.S. Forest Service would be abandoning its own management plan and contradicting its own studies and directives.
While the Forest Service is required to grant access to private inholdings for reasonable use and enjoyment, it is not required to approve a 26-foot wide asphalt road when the current road readily suffices for adequate access. It is not incumbent upon the agency, and the public it represents, to help bolster and ensure the value of a speculative investment.
Make no mistake … this about the long-range viability of the wildlife that made this valley their home, long before those who pioneered the area, or any of us who followed in their footsteps, arrived.
If you don’t believe this is a crisis, then please spare me the litany of “I moved here for the mountains and the lifestyle” declarations. Your words ring hollow. For this is certainly a bellwether moment.
If you do believe this is a crisis for our wildlife, please share your thoughts on the Berlaimont Estates road with your county commissioners and the U.S. Forest Service supervisor for White River National Forest. There comes a time when we just have to say no and try to mitigate the impacts we have wrought. The question is, if not now, when?