Biological study urges protections on Droste, et al. | AspenTimes.com

Biological study urges protections on Droste, et al.

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO, Colorado

Janet Urquhart Aspen Times Weekly

ASPEN – A biological study of 2,576 acres of open space that includes the former Droste property outside of Snowmass Village reaffirms the need for the wintertime closure and dog ban that have been instituted, but could result in the loosening of restrictions on some trails.Public use of the conglomeration of 13 open space parcels extending from Snowmass Village to the Roaring Fork River, to either side of Brush Creek, is but one focus of an 86-page report, plus references and appendices (220 pages in all) that was made public Wednesday.A first draft was delivered to Pitkin County Open Space and Trails officials in August, but big snows last winter and spring delayed the appearance of plant and animal species that were under review, and biologists were still visiting portions of the open space in late summer, according to Gary Tennenbaum, Open Space and Trails land steward.The county, Aspen and Snowmass Village contracted with Boulder firm Western Ecological Resource Inc. last spring to conduct biological and historical resource surveys of the parcels at a cost of $83,915. Wildlife Specialties of Lyons also worked on the study, a detailed assessment of plant and animal species on the various parcels, along with narrative about their history.The report’s conclusions will be used as open space officials prepare a management plan for the open space properties, which include Droste, Seven Star, Hidden Valley, Cozy Point South, Upper North Mesa and others. The report recommends that trails avoid fragmenting important habitat and wetland areas, which were mapped out as part of the survey. Biologists advocate a “bare minimum of trails” on the former Droste land and surrounding core properties.The report documents four types of critical elk habitat in the study area – winter range, severe winter range, winter concentration area and migration corridor – and upholds a seasonal closure (Dec. 1-May 15) that Open Space officials have already put in place for the former Droste parcel and adjacent open space. When the areas are open to use, the consultants recommend a nighttime closure from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.However, the consultants also recommend leaving the Brush Creek Trail, located in the valley floor between Highway 82 and Snowmass Village, open for year-round use. Between April 1 and May 15, the trail should only be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the study concludes. The Brush Creek Trail is currently closed in the winter.The recommendations for Upper North Mesa would extend the open season on the popular Rim Trail, which crosses the property. The North Rim Trail is currently closed annually from Oct. 30 through June 20. A Dec. 1-May 15 closure is proposed.The consultants also recommend allowing hunting on Droste, Hidden Valley, Seven Star Ranch II and Cozy Point South during the month of December – a departure from a hunting ban on all local open space properties – to help the state reach its big-game harvest objectives.The report also makes numerous recommendations to improve degraded plant communities and eradicate noxious weed species (21 were documented, along with three other invasive plants), to improve wildlife habitat.All of the recommendations will be considered as a management plan is developed, according to Tennenbaum. Public input will be part of the process.”I guarantee you we will look very hard at those recommendations,” he said.The study did document a few surprises, including one fen, on the northwest corner of the Upper North Mesa parcel. Fens are wetlands supported by groundwater that have a thick accumulation of organic soil or peat, according to the report. In the Colorado mountains, they can take hundreds to thousands of years to form.The consultants documented no federally listed endangered species on the parcels, but noted the presence of several “sensitive species” – northern goshawk, Brewer’s sparrow, olive-sided flycatcher and northern leopard frog, as well as the presence of silverleaf milkvetch, or Martin’s milkvetch, a plant not previously found in Pitkin County. The milkvetch is not at risk globally, but considered imperiled in Colorado, according to the consultants.”The surprise to me was the Martin’s milkvetch,” said Tennenbaum, who had admired the flowering plant for years on Seven Star (it was also found on the Droste property). “I had no idea it would be anything rare.”To find the study report, go to http://www.aspenpitkin.com and click on Open Space and Trails under County Departments. Then click on “Current Projects & Updates.”janet@aspentimes.com