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Trust Our Land: Help wildlife this holiday season

Bergen Tjossem
Eagle Valley Land Trust
Eagle County's history is rich with tales from Ute Indians, the first settlers, ranchers, cowboys and now more recently with the ski industry.
Todd Winslow Pierce | Daily file photo

Last year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Vail Daily released some disturbing news: our local elk populations have dropped by 50 percent since 2007.

Unfortunately, these animals haven’t moved somewhere else; the herd has decreased due to a variety of factors. One major factor is disturbance. Elk and deer are distinctly vulnerable to disturbances throughout the winter and spring, particularly when cows and does are pregnant or nursing their young.

It doesn’t just take a chasing dog or a motor to cause damage either. A quiet hiker or jogger can cause these animals stress even from a distance, and cumulative stresses take a toll over the long, harsh winters that Eagle County experiences.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to reduce your impact on wildlife during the winter: obey seasonal trail closures implemented by our public land managers. You’ve likely noticed them throughout the county as winter has set in and heard about their importance from organizations like Adopt A Trail. These closures are carefully timed to give wildlife the best possible chance to survive the winter and reproduce. To protect the wildlife that we love, we must give these animals space.

Habitat loss and fragmentation are other leading causes of wildlife declines. Even communities dedicated to thoughtful planning, habitat health, and conscientious growth like Eagle County are not immune to these issues.

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Fortunately, our community is working toward solutions.

In a county with a population expected to double in 35 years, available space that provides critical wildlife habitat is not something we have in abundance. However, there are several important corridors, calving grounds, and riparian access points, all of which are critically important for wildlife survival, that we can choose to protect.

The Brush Creek Valley Ranch and Open Space outside of Eagle is a great example. This 1,540-acre ranch was permanently protected by Eagle County Open Space, EVLT, Great Outdoors Colorado, The Conservation Fund, Eagle Ranch Wildlife Committee, Town of Eagle, and Trout Unlimited in 2017 with monumental support from our community. Owned by Eagle County, the property is permanently protected by a conservation easement held by EVLT, which limits development while allowing ranching and recreational uses to continue.

Eagle County Open Space, EVLT, and other partners are now working to protect one of the last pieces of open space in the Brush Creek Valley, The Ridgway Ranch. The Ridgway Ranch is an inholding at BCVROS that contains vital winter wildlife habitat. It is also an annual migration corridor that elk and deer depend on for survival. GOCO recently awarded EVLT and Eagle County Open Space $700,000 to assist with the acquisition of the ranch. EVLT and several community advocates are currently raising money to help close the deal.

This type of protection is not possible, realistic, or desired on all land where wildlife roams, but our community has continued to push for improved management techniques and creative solutions to balance the needs of wildlife, our local population, and the economy.

This holiday season, join EVLT and partners in protecting local wildlife by observing trail closures throughout Eagle County.

Bergen Tjossem is the communications and development manager at the Eagle Valley Land Trust. He can be reached at bergen@evlt.org. EVLT is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. For more about the Eagle Valley Land Trust and how it is conserving land and benefiting the community, visit http://www.evlt.org.


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