As our community debates the many development proposals currently before the Forest Service or many of our local governments, we should consider not only the impacts of those developments on the quality of life in our valley but the broader question of how our recreation impacts the wildlife so many of us came here to enjoy. A recent article in The Guardian by Christine Peterson is entitled “Americans’ love of hiking has driven elk to the brink, scientists say.” The article reports that trail use near Vail has doubled since 2009. It goes on to report that biologists used to count over 1,000 elk in unit 45 near Vail when doing an aerial census.
This last February, the researchers saw only 53. The article reports that increased outdoor recreation is the likely reason for the decline. One study quoted in the article shows that about 30% of elk calves died when their mothers were disturbed an average of seven times during calving. When the disturbances stopped, the number of calves which lived increased. I enjoy hiking and snowshoeing in our valley, so perhaps I am part of the problem. But I also respect closures in winter months and during calving.
The article quotes a wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife as observing we will have a “biological desert” if trail building and closure violations in critical wildlife habitat continue. Certainly, our government leaders have a role to play in reversing this trend, but we all bear some responsibility to recreate in a responsible manner and to stay out of areas which are closed for parts of the year.