Elk and other wildlife may lose a voice in Pitkin County government | AspenTimes.com

Elk and other wildlife may lose a voice in Pitkin County government

County wildlife biologist Jonathan Lowsky resigned last month. Aspen Times file photo.

If elk played politics, there would be a herd of them crowding the chambers of the Pitkin County commissioners these days in a lobbying effort.Elk, along with deer and other wild critters that roam the mountains around Aspen, lost their main advocate in Pitkin County government recently. Jonathan Lowsky, a wildlife biologist on the county staff, resigned Oct. 27. The county is evaluating whether to replace him. A decision could be made as soon as Dec. 14.For the last eight years, Lowsky and his predecessor have been the voice of wild animals when the county reviewed land-use applications. For example, Lowksy’s studies of elk migration routes helped determine what parts of Owl Creek Valley should be off-limits to development. His perspective on the ecological value of Deer Hill helped mold the city of Aspen’s Burlingame housing project.

Lowsky joined the county in April 1998. He resigned to form a local private consulting firm, Wildlife and Wetlands Solutions.The county’s wildlife biologist position was created in 1996, in large part because county officials didn’t want to rely on the Colorado Division of Wildlife for assessments of land-use applications. Various county commissioners over the years alleged that state wildlife officers were prevented by their superiors from saying what they really thought about development, for fear of political retaliation.Pitkin County became the first county in the state to hire its own wildlife biologist. The position remains rare. County Manager Hillary Smith said that reflects the importance the county commissioners assign to wildlife issues.

“It is of value to the organization and to the community,” Smith said.Nevertheless, the county’s policy is to evaluate what alternatives are available any time a vacancy is created, Smith said. In this case, department heads are assessing if the duties can be folded into other jobs, if the county could use a consultant to perform the most vital duties, or whether the position should be retained on the staff. County Public Works Director Brian Pettet will file a report and recommendations for the commissioners early in December, according to Smith.She said the county will continue to require the services of a wildlife biologist. “We need it in certain aspects.”

One option could be relying again on the state wildlife division, where the leadership has changed since the time when some Pitkin County commissioners lost faith in the agency.DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said the agency eagerly provides statistical and biological information to county governments and other entities that seek it.”We would try to leave the politics to somebody else,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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