Hikers a small part of a bigger problem
I read with interest the remarks written in the Aspen Daily News on Thursday.
According to wildlife officials at Wednesday night’s meeting in Basalt, “Partial winter closures to hikers on some local public lands would be key to protection of the deteriorating health of deer and elk in the Roaring Fork Valley.”
“Key” – please.
I am sure that hikers do have some impact on the big game in our area; however, we need to address a few other areas of much greater impact.
Having lived in the Old Snowmass area for 40 years, I, as well as many other longtime residents, have realized the population decreases of the deer and elk in our valley for many years.
Let’s talk about the 31⁄2 months of hunting each year, not to mention the hunting on some private lands.
My husband and I used to hunt. When big-game animals were prevalent, we hunted both elk and deer.
Back then the hunting seasons were reasonable and lasted three to four weeks. Then the Division of Wildlife started increasing the seasons. Until now, the seasons have run from August to mid-November and the animals have been harassed incessantly.
This extension of the hunting seasons till mid-November during the traditional mating season is also a big factor in deer and elk populations, as the fawns and calves are born later and are therefore smaller and at risk of not surviving our long winters.
Now let’s talk about deer and elk access to winter range. I can’t comment on the Crown Mountain or Arbaney-Kittle area, but the animals’ access to their traditional winter range on Light Hill was affected severely a few years ago when the DOW, BLM, and our county commissioners allowed John McBride to surround his newly acquired ranch, the historic Light Ranch, with a 48-inch high, five-strand barbed wire fence.
This fence follows the East Sopris Creek from the Cerise ranch property for approximately two miles and then runs north and eventually west again, abutting the BLM lands, keeping most of the big-game animals from crossing into their winter range.
I have hiked extensively all over the Light Hill area and have personally found dead fawn and calf carcasses hanging on that fence. I have also seen numerous lame and injured deer maimed from snagging on that barbed wire. Driving the East Sopris Creek Road recently I observed dozens of clumps of hair on the top wire of that fence where deer and elk have been nicked. A 48-inch high fence is not necessary to keep in a few cows. If a rancher has the money to purchase and operate a ranch, he can very well afford to, and should be required to, surround his property with a wildlife-friendly fence. This is especially important if one’s property surrounds a historically important big-game winter range.
To summarize: Hikers into the Light Hill ridge area are making a slight impact on wildlife compared to the other factors I have mentioned.
Let’s reduce the duration of the hunting seasons in our valley and limit the issuance of licenses. Also, John McBride should be required to at least cut down the top strand of his 48-inch high barbed wire fence. Better yet, he should be required to build an attractive log fence. These two proposals would have a much bigger impact on the health and longevity of our big game, and maybe then the hikers would be more amenable to the proposed closures.
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