Cameras capture poaching on closed Snowmass Village trail
June’s weather proved too alluring for some mountain bikers, hikers and runners who poached a popular trail outside of Snowmass Village while it was closed for the benefit of wildlife.
Motion-detecting cameras showed 25 poachers, including five dogs, entered the Tom Blake Trail on the lower slopes of Burnt Mountain during April, May and June, according to the town of Snowmass Village’s Animal Services Department. There were 17 violations in June alone — nine mountain bikers, five hikers, one runner and two dogs accompanying people.
The number of poachers was up drastically from two in 2014, when late snow kept people off trails. There were 21 poachers caught by cameras in 2013 and 29 in 2012, according to the department’s records.
Two people have been identified from camera images this year and cited for entering a closed trail, according to Tina White, an animal services officer. The department continues to try to identify other poachers and issue citations, she said. The town’s fines start at $50. The U.S. Forest Service handles enforcement on the popular Government Trail, also seasonally closed for the benefit of wildlife on Burnt Mountain.
White said four cameras are placed along the Tom Blake Trail to track poaching by humans and use of the area by deer, elk and other wildlife. Bears, cougars, wild turkeys and a moose were observed.
The cameras also captured trail users reading the closures signs — then ignoring them and entering the closed terrain.
“That is just shocking to me,” White said.
Snowmass Village has placed closure signs at all trailheads, trail intersections and likely entry points from adjacent subdivisions. The trails describe the terrain surrounding the trail as wildlife habitat and important calving ground for elk.
A report by the Animal Services Department says Snowmass Village officials approved the trail closure when the Pines and Two Creeks residential neighborhoods were approved. They were in an elk migration pathway.
“Development has boxed in the calving grounds, and there is not another suitable, undeveloped habitat for the elk to use of this quality,” the report said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials had suggested a closure through June 30 because the month is so important for elk calving and nursing. Pressure from recreationalists forced a compromise of June 21.
The trail cameras showed that 210 hikers, bikers, runners and dogs used the trail legally on the opening day this year. White said the amount of wildlife captured by the cameras, both day and night, plummeted after use started.
“That’s a pressure issue, for sure,” she said.
The Animal Services Department aims to keep the closure intact despite pressure from some trail users. The animal services officers also plans to beef up enforcement of the spring closure in 2016 with a little help from their friends. Members of the Snowmass Village Trails Committee have offered to help monitor locked trail gates at prime times.
“There’s going to be more of us out there,” White said.
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