Rangers plan how to handle moose, bear, people
if you go
What: Aspen District Ranger Karen Schroyer will talk about intensive use of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness
When: Wednesday, 5:30 p.m. at the Third Street Center in Carbondale; Thursday at 7 p.m. at Hallam Lake in Aspen
Cost: Free and open to the public
The U.S. Forest Service hopes to start a special patrol this year to try to reduce moose and human conflicts in the popular Maroon Bells Scenic Area.
Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer said her goal is to prepare a budget that would allow hiring two additional seasonal rangers to patrol the developed, non-wilderness portion of the Maroon Bells area. They would educate humans about the moose that hang out frequently at and around Maroon Lake and make sure crowds give the animals space, Schroyer said.
The Forest Service also will rely on partners to reduce potential conflicts. The Forest Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that provides volunteer rangers and raises funds for specific projects, is working on interpretative signs about moose to display near Maroon Lake. Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, which provides nature tours, also will help educate people.
Schroyer said the Forest Service needs to develop a moose-management plan for the longer term because the issues and potential for conflict won’t go away.
“The moose love that valley. They come back every year,” she said.
Last year, the agency reacted too much. It needs to put a better plan in place, Schroyer said. Moose have been congregating in upper Maroon Creek Valley with increasing frequency in recent years. The Aspen Ranger District, in conjunction with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, closed trail segments around Maroon Lake in June after conflicts. In one case, a couple from Boston came within 50 yards of a bull moose to take a picture. It charged them, but no one was hurt.
No trails will be closed to start this summer, Schroyer said. In the longer term, some trails might be rerouted from the water where the moose tend to stay.
The Forest Service also will reopen 11 backcountry campsites around Crater Lake that were closed in August because of bear incidents. There were at least six incidents documented by rangers where a bear tried to get unattended food. In some cases, a bear shredded a tent to get at food. It wasn’t the same bear in all incidents, according to the Forest Service.
Crater Lake is about 1.5 miles south of Maroon Lake, at the gateway to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The Forest Service didn’t want to create bear problems elsewhere when it closed the Crater Lake campsites, so it approved a special order that required campers in the West Maroon Valley to use bear-resistant canisters for food storage and garbage.
“That was only an emergency special order through the end of that season,” Schroyer said. “We will reopen the Crater Lake campsites again” when the snow melts. Campers will be urged but not required to store food and garbage in a bear-resistant container, she said.
“I think some people will heed that advice,” Schroyer said.
While it is almost certain the moose will return to Maroon Lake, it is unpredictable whether bears will again seek food from human sources around Crater Lake. Perhaps the service berry, choke cherry and other natural food sources favored by bruins will be better this year and bears won’t seek food from campers, Schroyer said. However, wildlife officials said a habituated bear will continue to return to tried-and-true food sources.
Schroyer said she favors looking at bear-friendly management practices, such as use of food containers, along the entire Four Pass Loop, an extremely popular backpacking route. That would require a study through the National Environmental Policy Act, she said.
The Forest Service also is in the early stages of considering better management of people at hotspots within the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. High levels of visitation at some areas — Conundrum Hot Springs, Four Pass Loop and Snowmass Lake — are leading to excessive wear and tear to sensitive alpine areas and improper handling of human waste and trash, according to the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. Schroyer is giving two free, public presentations this week on the issues. She will be the featured speaker in the Naturalist Nights series presented by Wilderness Workshop and Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. The first presentation will be tonight at 5:30 p.m. at the Carbondale Third Street Center’s Callaway Room. The second presentation will be Thursday at 7 p.m. at Hallam Lake in Aspen.
Ironically, the funds for the additional rangers for moose patrol might be available because visitation to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area soared in the summer. The Forest Service collected about 40 percent more day-use revenue in 2014. The amount collected skyrocketed to $344,500.
Schroyer said that includes $10 fees paid by drivers at times when private-vehicle use was allowed and the Forest Service’s 50-cent share of the $6 bus fare collected by Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
RFTA reported that it hauled 123,128 bus passengers on its Maroon Bells service last year, an increase of 22.74 percent over 2013.
The total number of visitors in summer 2014 wasn’t immediately available.
“I think it’s safe to assume the visitor numbers have increased in line with the revenue, since we have not raised the fees in several years,” Schroyer said.
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