Keeping wildlife in mind | AspenTimes.com

Keeping wildlife in mind

Dear Editor:

The new stretch of bike trail through the Rock Bottom Ranch Wildlife Preserve is as beautiful and popular as could be hoped for. The impacts to wildlife, however, have been far greater than anyone anticipated.

In addition to the herons, the resident deer herd, the wintering bald eagles, and much of the wintering deer and elk herds have been displaced from this critical habitat along with countless other less noticeable species. Even the strongest supporters of recreational trails have quit trying to claim there have been no impacts, and most have given up on trying to blame these impacts on factors other than the trail. The bottom line is that, until the day before trail construction began, this was by far the richest and most diverse wildlife habitat from Aspen to Glenwood.

Most bike trail supporters now acknowledge the damage being done but claim the trail’s popularity justifies it. Others like to point out how much worse the train would be for wildlife. This is the weakest argument of all.

First, there are no plans to run a train along this route. This alignment was eliminated from consideration long ago for the same reason it makes a poor bike path ” it fails to provide access to the population it should serve. The only reason to put a train here would be to try to cause more damage than a bike trail.

Second, as their own wildlife biologist has tried to explain to the RFTA Board, trains are not generally as impactive to most wildlife as are bike trails. Trains, like cars, function like hunting blinds to conceal the humans within. While counterintuitive, this can easily be demonstrated by looking south across the river from I-70 about a half mile west of the West Glenwood exit. Perched on a favorite ponderosa pine tightly sandwiched between the interstate and a very active railroad you’ll likely see at least one and often two bald eagles. Put a bike trail through here and leave it open during November when eagles are known to return to these wintering grounds, and these birds will disappear. Downstream toward New Castle, is a large heronry about 100 yards from the rail. There are any number of examples of this.

Those that believe residential areas are more impactive than high use trails should continue their bird watching along the Glenwood bypass. There are several favorite bald eagle perches along the Skunk Hollow neighborhood, and some even right out the back doors of crowded townhouses across from the cemetery. These will also disappear as trails are constructed along the river corridor.

Almost all of these impacts could be avoided with a minimum sacrifice to recreation. If wildlife remains important to you, please let the RFTA Board know this through mhermes@rfta.com ASAP. They will be discussing wildlife closures at their meeting this Thursday in the Carbondale Town Hall at 8:30 a.m.

Jim Duke

Carbondale


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