SNOWMASS VILLAGE - Wildlife monitoring cameras set up around Snowmass Village have been detecting more than just animals: They're also catching people using trails on public lands that are now closed for the winter.
Food sources are limited during the winter months, so certain public lands in Snowmass Village are seasonally closed to recreational use to give animals a place to feed without being disturbed. The Animal Services department has set up the motion sensor cameras in winter range sites around town so that officers can monitor wildlife without having to enter.
Already the cameras, which snap a photo when they detect motion, have captured images of elk, deer, coyotes, foxes and several species of birds, according to Officer Tina White. But they have also caught an unprecedented number of people violating the trail closures.
"They're going over closed gates with locks on them and big signs," White said.
"I'm getting the sense that they just don't think that their actions will impact the elk and other animals."
The warm, dry weather Snowmass was experiencing might also have contributed to the increase in illegal trail use, because the trails were still accessible to hikers and bikers - once over any gates, that is.
Many users who could be identified have been issued citations, White said. The penalty for a first offense violation is a $50 fine, according to the town of Snowmass Village.
Most of the violations have been occurring on Rim Trail North, particularly from the Horse Ranch access point. That section of trail has been closed since Oct. 30. Many people have also been caught walking with dogs, which are banned on that section year-round.
Some people might think their use doesn't have an impact on wildlife, but it's still against town law, White pointed out.
"They need to make an intelligent choice and try to go through the hoops politically correctly," she said. "Because there's a reason for it to be in place."
Animals need a place where they can access food without the added stress of human contact, White said. Elk in particular go up to higher elevations to access brush, she said.
Because the department just started using the cameras this year, Animal Services can't make comparisons to determine if the number of closure violations is higher this year.
"I get the feeling it has been (going on)," White said.