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June 14, 2014
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Cameras confirm that elk benefit from trail closures on Burnt Mountain

Images from hidden cameras planted on Burnt Mountain to monitor wildlife have confirmed this year that solitude provided by trail closures this spring has benefited elk cows and their calves, according to wildlife officials.

The cameras captured images of cow elk with calves, a bear cub and even a moose, according to Laurie Smith, an officer with Snowmass Village’s animal services. The images reaffirm wildlife experts’ claims that the area is valuable as wildlife habitat, said Phil Nyland, a wildlife biologist with the White River National Forest Supervisor’s Office. Studies dating back to the 1980s and monitoring by Colorado Parks and Wildlife have identified Burnt Mountain as an important habitat for elk, particularly at calving season.

The photos help the public understand what the studies say.

“We have the on-the-ground proof for people to see,” Smith said.

People who are eager to hit the trail network on Burnt Mountain must wait just a little longer. The closures will be lifted Saturday. The pictures show it’s worth the wait. The wildlife is flourishing, Nyland said.

Government Trail, a popular mountain-biking and trail-running route, is closed each year by the Forest Service from May 15 through June 20. The town of Snowmass Village closes the Tom Blake Trail, Anaerobic Nightmare and Sequel from April 25 through June 20.

The closure period covers when the cow elk give birth. Burnt Mountain is a popular calving area because the abundance of food gives the cows the nourishment they need while nursing the calves, Nyland said. The closure also is needed to let the calves grow enough so that they get on their feet and travel with their moms.

Hundreds of elk use a migration corridor that includes Burnt Mountain when the snow flies in the fall. Scores of cows return to the area for calving, Nyland said.

Nyland credited Snowmass Village’s animal services officers, Smith and Tina White, for doing a good job of notifying the public about the closure. They don’t rely solely on signs at the dozen entry points to the trails. They go on the offensive by contacting homeowners’ associations, cycling and running clubs and athletic centers about the closure and why it’s necessary. Information also is posted on the town’s website. Smith said they also patrol the trail entries regularly.

White and Smith said Aspen Skiing Co., the Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife all play a critical role in publicizing the closure.

“I think we’ve seen better compliance this year than we’ve ever seen,” Nyland said.

The weather also might play a role in that. Trails at higher elevations have had snow or mud until recently because of the higher-than-average snowfall. That deters people from poaching trails. Snowmass also offers an abundance of alternative routes for cyclists, hikers and runners to take advantage of early in the season.

Trail conditions were drier in spring 2013, and there was a less intensive public-information campaign. There were multiple violations of the closure.

“Last year we had cyclists coming through the area,” Smith said. “We had long-distance runners and hikers.”

People entering the Government Trail illegally during the closure are subject to a minimum $125 fine by the Forest Service.

Nyland said the trail poachers who have been caught have tended to be local residents, not visitors who are unaware of the closures.

“They know they’re going past a sign or a gate or a rope,” Nyland said.

The danger of entering early is it could force the elk to flee. Calves might not yet be capable of keeping up with their moms, so they will be separated. Disruption of the cows also can interfere with their ability to sustain their calves.

Be patient, Nyland urged trail users, because the trail will soon be open.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jun 14, 2014 09:40PM Published Jun 17, 2014 05:26PM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.