Trust Our Land: Willingly waiting for wildlife
Eagle Valley Land Trust
Wildlife is one of our community’s most treasured resources. Deer, elk, and our other furry friends inspire and give us a reason to tread lightly in the backcountry.
Like many in Eagle County, wildlife have had a challenging year. Increased recreational usage on public lands over the past 12 months, among other challenges like wildfire and drought, have had real impacts.
Protecting wildlife is a responsibility that unites all of us. Trail closures are one of our community’s most important tools for giving wildlife the space they need during times of the year when they are most vulnerable. Right now, elk and deer are in survival mode; even the slightest disturbances can have cumulative impacts throughout winter and spring. As our community grows, so too must our respect for wildlife and their needs.
Fortunately, awareness about the importance of trail closures has been growing in our county. Not only are local trail users increasingly willing to comply with closures, many have championed the effort. Efforts such as Adopt-A-Trail’s Wildlife Trail Ambassador Program have resulted in a significant increase in trail closure adherence. Since last April, 60 WTA volunteers have made 217 contacts, educating users about the importance of closed trails. Additional help is always welcome, however. If you’d like to learn more about the WTA Program, head over to vvmta.org/wildlifetrailambassadors/.
To be a true friend of wildlife, give them space year-round. A handy trick is to measure your distance using your thumb. If you are lucky enough to encounter an animal on an open trail, extend your arm fully, close one eye, put up your thumb, and try to block the animal with it. If your thumb fully covers the animal, your distance is adequate. If you can’t cover the animal with your thumb, slowly give it more space until you can. These actions may just save that animal’s life.
After a long winter, many of us are bursting with excitement to get out on our favorite trails throughout the county. Please remember that many trails around the county are still closed, so do some research before you go. The Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance provides great trail status information at vvmta.org/seasonaltrailclosures/.
The Eagle Valley Outdoor Stewardship Coalition — a group dedicated to safe, fun, responsible, and sustainable recreation — kicked into high gear at the onset of the pandemic last spring. The group, which includes an array of land managers and outdoor recreation organizations, created a list of outdoor recreation guidance to empower our community to utilize public lands sustainably.
“Respect closures, be a steward” is one of the top line messages that partners agreed on. This principle reminds us that wildlife closures are put in place seasonally to ensure healthy births of deer fawns and elk calves; safety closures are in place to protect first responders and manage risk; a muddy trail is a closed trail, no matter what; and land managers are always monitoring changing conditions, so some trail openings may be delayed for wildlife or trail conditions.
By growing our local stewardship ethos together, we’ll be able to not only enjoy our public spaces, but also protect wildlife, forever. What does conservation mean to you? Share your thoughts at evlt.org/survey.
Bergen Tjossem is the deputy director at the Eagle Valley Land Trust, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to protecting land for our community. To learn more about EVLT’s local land conservation work, visit evlt.org.