Mandalay fence is elk-friendly and Kitchen compliant

Scott Condon
Once old, green and without gaps, the new fence on the Mandalay Ranch property along Owl Creek Road, as seen Friday afternoon September 24, 2004, now contains breaks every 200 feet to allow migrating elk to pass unimpeded. The ranch, formerly owned by Hollywood movie mogul Peter Guber, replaced an old slat wooden fence which created problems for migrating elk and was a source of animosity for the Department of Wildlife and the former owner. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

It’s not going to be deja vu all over again at Mandalay Ranch. If you’re an elk, that’s a good thing.The new owners of the sprawling ranch in the Owl Creek Valley between Snowmass Ski Area and Buttermilk have built a new fence and, unlike their predecessor, they immediately made it elk friendly.The log fence along Owl Creek Road has openings every 200 feet so elk can easily travel through, said Kevin Wright, the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s officer for the Aspen district. The lowest of the three horizontal log rails in each section of fence is also 18 inches off the ground. That’s important because it allows calves to pass underneath, Wright said.”It’s a very positive move for the landowner,” he said.

Dawn and Roland Arnall bought the ranch in February for $46 million.Mandalay Ranch, formerly owned by Hollywood movie producer Peter Guber, is along the prime migration route for elk retreating from the high country to winter range in the valley floor. Typically they move through the ranch starting in mid-October. Some stay there for the winter, depending on the severity of the weather.The 650-acre ranch is also used as elk-calving ground as well as a migration route in the spring.In addition to being elk friendly, the new fence appears to be Dan Kitchen-compliant. Kitchen helped make an old fence on the property controversial in the mid-1990s.After Guber purchased the ranch he put up a white slat fence that didn’t have any openings nor clearance from the ground to the lowest horizontal piece. Kitchen, an environmentalist and self-avowed elk expert, took matters into his own hands – and hand saw. He cut openings into the fence in October 1995, and was ticketed for criminal mischief.

Kitchen planned to use a “choices of evil” defense, arguing that cutting somebody else’s fence was less of a crime than imperiling elk that were struggling to survive the winter.Pitkin County Judge Tam Scott wouldn’t allow that defense so Kitchen plead guilty. He received six months of probation and was ordered to pay for repairs.More importantly, Kitchen said Friday, the publicity convinced Guber to leave openings in the fence year-round starting the following spring. Guber’s fence remained elk friendly from spring 1996 until it was replaced this summer.”I look at it as I won the battle and won the war,” Kitchen said.Wildlife officials are relieved they didn’t have to go through an education process with the new owners. They worked with Pitkin County wildlife biologist Jonathan Lowsky on their model.

Kitchen wasn’t willing to give the fence his entire seal of approval. He said he wants to make sure it has an adequate number of openings. He also decried the waste of lumber from tearing down one huge fence and replacing it with another.”I haven’t won the war against the ostentatious fence disease,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is


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