Hearings begin for requested removal of Aspen Glen eagle buffer zone | AspenTimes.com

Hearings begin for requested removal of Aspen Glen eagle buffer zone

Neighbors oppose removal, say eagles still active even though historic nest is gone

Aspen Glen resident Lisa McPherson speaks about the eagles nest buffer zone, a portion of which is seen directly behind her in this image.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The fate of a protective bald eagle nest buffer zone that has accompanied the gated Aspen Glen neighborhood near Carbondale since it was approved in 1993 now rests with Garfield County commissioners.

In November, the commissioners determined that a request by the Aspen Glen Golf Co. — a subsidiary of Apollo holdings — to remove the buffer zone requires a full public hearing as a “substantial modification” to the long-established planned unit development.

The matter goes before the Garfield County Planning Commission on Wednesday night for a recommendation, and is tentatively scheduled to go before the county commissioners in September.

The golf course owners also hold a handful of remaining zoned but unsold residential parcels on either side of the Roaring Fork River within the buffer zone. The restrictions have prevented any additional lots from being platted and sold as long as the buffer zone is in place.

The impetus for doing away with the buffer zone now is that the actual nest that was the basis for the protections in the first place no longer exists. Three years ago, the upper half of a once-towering ponderosa pine where the nest was built decades ago fell over in a windstorm.

“The buffer zone was originally established to protect an existing nest and a pair of juvenile eagles that eventually became a mating pair,” land use consultant Davis Farrar of Western Slope Consulting wrote on behalf of the applicant. “It was created for that purpose and was not intended to be used or designated for other purposes.”

But several residents of the upscale community, as well as the consensus opinion of the Aspen Glen Homeowners Association, is that the buffer zone should remain, because eagles and other wildlife are still prominent along the river corridor.

Lisa McPherson lives just below the Aspen Glen Clubhouse on River Glen Drive and has a prime view of the former nesting tree across a 10-acre Bureau of Land Management inholding that preexisted the development.

She helped form the Roaring Fork Eagle Coalition to try to convince the county to keep the buffer zone intact.

While the nest is no longer, she and other neighbors say bald eagles remain active along that stretch of the river, using it as a hunting grounds to feed their young in years when they do have fledglings as a new nest site is about a mile upstream.

The undisturbed stretch of river provided by the BLM land and the protective zone also is home to other wildlife, including ospreys, blue herons and many mammals, including migrating elk herds in the winter months.

“The eagles never really left. This is still a special place on the river for them,” McPherson said Monday from her back patio.

“Our focus right now is on the eagles, because that’s what the county will be making the decision based on,” she added. “But it opens up a lot of other issues, like the infrastructure needed to support more development and more traffic on (Colorado) Highway 82.”

She also said it was more the actions of the Aspen Glen development company back in 2016 that led to the eagles abandoning the nest, even before the tree toppled over. At that time, a wildlife viewing camera was installed on the trees, which McPherson claims was done in violation of federal bald eagle protections because it happened during breeding season.

The coalition retained ecologist Delia Malone to do an analysis last week of the riverfront habitat where the buffer zone was established. Her findings have been submitted to the Planning Commission and county commissioners for consideration.

“Field surveys documented that, although the bald eagles reestablished a nest 0.72 air miles upstream of their ancestral nest site, the eagles continue to use the protected area within the Bald Eagle Buffer Zone as roosting and foraging habitat for both the adult bald eagles and their eaglets,” Malone wrote in her report.

She recommended a “thorough” biological survey be conducted of bald eagle use of the area to determine the long-term value of keeping the buffer zone in place.

The neighborhood group also is hoping to convince Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which helped facilitate the buffer zone in the first place, to reconsider its position.

To date, though, CPW has advised that, since the nest no longer exists, the buffer zone is no longer warranted.

“The potential for eagles to build another nest in the historic buffer zone area exists, but is no more probable nor likely than any other location along the Roaring Fork River of equally suitable habitat,” CPW Area Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita wrote in a May 10 letter to County Planner Glenn Hartmann.

In its letter supporting preservation of the buffer zone, however, the Aspen Glen HOA writes:

“The board feels that this action (removal of the buffer zone) will have an adverse effect on water, wildlife and open space conservation. After all, generations of herding elk and nesting eagles were here long before we were, and part of our responsibilities as a community living among them is to protect and provide space for them, along with conservation of our precious natural resources.”

Numerous letters from individual Aspen Glen residents, including some of the original lot owners, also support leaving the buffer zone in place.

The Planning Commission meeting begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday and can be attended in person at the Garfield County Administration Building, 108 Eighth St., Glenwood Springs, or via Zoom.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.