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A win-win solution

Dear Editor:

The most beautiful section of bike trail in the Roaring Fork Valley is located on the Rock Bottom Ranch Preserve. The trail skirts the Roaring Fork River and passes through meandering streams, healthy ponds, rich wetlands and giant cottonwoods. The preserve also happens to be the best nesting site in the valley for the magnificent great blue heron.

The herons are not endangered here yet, but quality nesting sites are becoming scarce, and as we continue to develop, we squeeze them even tighter. There are only four viable heronries in the entire valley. The Rock Bottom heronry has historically been the largest. Since many of the bird species we once thought of as common have begun to plummet in numbers ” biologist are very worried ” we need to think of how to protect what we have (stateofthebirds.audubon.org/cbid/).



In April 2007 there were 22 herons sitting on eggs in just the west section of the preserve. As soon as the bike path opened, all nests were abandoned. In April 2008 there were 10 herons sitting on eggs, and again, when the path opened the nests in the west section were abandoned. Herons will not rebuild once disturbed from their eggs. These birds have not reproduced for two years now, and it would be very dangerous to push them another year. We have learned from past mistakes that there is no such thing as a dispensable species.

The RFTA board is bound by a categorical exclusion to ensure that the trail causes no negative impact to wildlife in the preserve. The board is under pressure from trail users to open the trail early, and there is equal pressure from environmentalists to keep it closed a little longer. The RFTA board’s own paid wildlife biologist and the Colorado Division of Wildlife recommend a June 1 opening.




The pressure is strong from both sides, but we think we have an answer.

Our solution, while not ideal for the birds, is better than the situation they now face ” the May 1 opening, right when they are sitting on their eggs. We don’t think anyone really wants to see the herons chased from their nests, so our idea is to have RFTA’s wildlife biologist monitor the nests this spring, and if he determines that the adult herons are sitting on eggs, the path would remain closed the extra three to four weeks.

This would provide the necessary time for the eggs to hatch and for the parents and chicks to bond. We are hoping that the herons will quickly become accustomed to the bike traffic so that this later opening may only be needed this year. All that is required is a little patience ” and everyone, herons included, will feel better for the small sacrifice it will take to help maintain a stable heron population.

Mary Harris, Roaring Fork Audubon Society

Carbondale


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