RFTA closes portion of Rio Grande Trail due to mountain lion sightings
The Aspen Times
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has closed a portion of the Rio Grande Trail between Rock Bottom Ranch and the Catherine Store Bridge due to mountain lion activity.
Facebook photos of three lion kittens were shared repeatedly Wednesday, causing some folks to head to the area in search of spotting them, said Brett Meredith, trails manager with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
Carbondale resident Ken Krehbiel, who took the photos while riding his bike on the trail, said he didn’t imagine that people would go looking for them. He said he posted the photos to alert people. He also noted in his post that he got out of the area fast.
“I came around the corner and immediately knew they were mountain lion kittens, so I didn’t stick around,” he said. “They looked really healthy. I would guess the mom was nearby.”
A Colorado Parks & Wildlife official had the same opinion after he went to the area and spotted the kittens. John Groves, district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, strongly advised RFTA to shut down that portion of the trail.
“At this point they appear to be healthy and in good shape,” Groves said. “My thought is now since they look healthy that Mom is probably around and was just off hunting somewhere.”
Groves said he’ll continue to monitor the area in the coming days until he can confirm whether the mother is around. In the meantime, people need to stay away from the area and obey the trail closure, he said.
Krehbiel said he didn’t see any sign of the mom but heard a noise that sounded like it could have potentially come from something larger than the kittens. He didn’t spend enough time in the area to find out.
Coincidentally, Krehbiel has been taking photographs of wildlife for years. He sets up nighttime motion-sensor cameras that shoot stills and video. It started out as a hobby that has brought some local media attention his way in recent years.
In this case, seeing the lions in broad daylight — it was about 6 p.m. Tuesday when he spotted them and snapped the photos — was extremely rare, he said.
“Unfortunately, they were a little too curious. They went off the trail and came right back on the trail,” Krehbiel said. “And I thought, ‘I need to keep on going.’ I got a few pictures and then they went into the bushes.”
There have been several sightings since June 23, Groves said. On Wednesday morning, he headed to the general area of the trail where the kittens had been spotted. He approached and saw the kittens crossing the trail almost immediately.
“People should not be out there looking for them, because they’re putting themselves potentially in danger if the mom is still around,” Groves said.
If the kittens appear dehydrated or their body condition deteriorates, or if they don’t appear as mobile in the coming days, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will have to figure out next steps. At this point, the assumption is that the mother just stashed the kittens while she went out to hunt, but if officials determine the mother is no longer around, something will have to be done.
Mountain lions are a hard animal to rehabilitate and send back into the wild, Groves said. Kittens this young would never learn how to hunt and kill their own prey without their mother, he noted.
He’s hopeful that the mother will return and take the kittens on their way.
In Groves’ 43 years in Colorado, he said he’s seen one mountain lion — even doing what he does for a living. When asked whether mountain lion sightings and encounters are increasing throughout the region, he said it “kind of goes in cycles.”
“I think we’re just encountering them more. I can’t put a finger on anything unusual happening — it’s just an increase in population, both in lions and humans,” he said. “You might not have seen one, but they’ve seen you. They’re a very elusive animal.”
Krehbiel, a former Outward Bound instructor who has spent hundreds of nights out in the wilderness, said he’s seen six mountain lions in his lifetime. Two winters ago, he captured 90 mountain lion photographs at River Valley Ranch in Carbondale via one of his motion-sensor cameras.
“I know they’re all around because I get pictures of them quite frequently,” he said. “But this was so unusual to have them right there.”
Meredith said RFTA will be relying on Colorado Parks and Wildlife to determine how long that section of trail should remain closed.
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Studies by Colorado Parks and Wildlife show the survival of elk calves in the Roaring Fork Valley has dropped about 33 percent in the last decade. White River National Forest officials said they need to act to try to reserve that trend. They are seeking public comment on their plan.