Elk corridor threatened by S’mass development | AspenTimes.com

Elk corridor threatened by S’mass development

A bird’s-eye view of the Brush Creek Valley Thursday gave the Snowmass Village council a unique perspective on the town’s threatened wildlife corridor.

The main attraction of three LightHawk flights was 1,350 acres split between the Droste and Seven Star properties. Both parcels, which could soon be developed, serve as a key leg of the migration corridor for the Burnt Mountain herds of elk and mule deer.

“Droste and Seven Star are the last critical pieces of the puzzle to go back and forth between summer and winter ranges,” said Dawn Keating, wildlife specialist for Snowmass Village.

The 900-acre Droste property is currently under negotiation for protection with a 500-acre conservation easement, with development on the remainder of the property. The owners of the Seven Star have received conceptual approval for two homes on their 450-acre parcel.

But before either parcel gets a go-ahead, Councilmen Jack Hatfield, Doug Mercatoris, Kevin Costello and Mark Brady wanted to get a broader perspective on how wildlife would be impacted.

“Part of why everyone says they move to Snowmass and Aspen is the wildlife,” Costello said. “They’ve been there a lot longer than we have. … And we owe them something here.”

Wildlife considerations have been discussed with both the owners of Droste and Seven Star. But even minimal development could significantly detract from the effectiveness of the current migration corridor that runs through both properties, Keating said.

On the Droste parcel, a 500-acre conservation easement on the valley floor would protect riparian habitats and maintain visual attributes of the area. But development on top of the property would effectively cut off the elk and deer migration route, she noted.

Similarly, the location of the proposed homesites at Seven Star would also likely discourage some of the animals from continuing to use the corridor.

“The herds’ migration pattern would probably shift with fewer and fewer animals traveling between their summer and winter habitat,” said Keating. “Eventually we may not have any of the herd left. I don’t know if that’s 10, 20, 30 years out, but my understanding is that elk in Snowmass is an important value.”

Councilman Hatfield is firmly opposed to the town purchasing a conservation easement from the Droste family.

“We would be preserving riparian and scenic qualities, but not doing anything for the big- game animals,” Hatfield said. “And once two homes go up on Seven Star, the wildlife corridor would be neutralized.”

If it were up to him, Hatfield would instead purchase Seven Star outright in order to maintain an uninterrupted segment of the migration corridor.

“Between development at Snowmass Village, Brush Creek Road and Highway 82, the corridor’s been constrained by 90 percent,” Keating said. “It’s like threading through an eye of a needle right now.”

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