Save the area for wildlife |

Save the area for wildlife

Dear Editor: The Crystal River Valley has some of the last, best wildlife habitat in the Roaring Fork watershed. Because of the steep landscape, low-elevation wildlife habitat is naturally rare. Over the decades, development eliminated much of the lower elevation critical wildlife habitat. The result: wildlife has been squeezed into those few remaining undeveloped areas. Land development in these last best places will result in wildlife population declines and eventually the local disappearance of sensitive wildlife species.Bike trails are a form of land development. Constructing a bike trail through critical habitat will negatively impact native wildlife.In a project that assessed riparian and stream habitat in the Roaring Fork watershed we found only a few areas in the Crystal Valley that continue to have high wildlife potential. These areas include Red Wind Point, Janeway, Avalanche Creek- Crystal River confluence, Filoha Meadows and Placita – all areas through which the county wants to develop a bike trail. This trail will negatively impact wildlife populations that depend on these areas for survival.Preserving these habitats in a condition free of human disturbance is about conserving our natural heritage. Access to some of these areas is currently forbidden by the county with signage that clearly prohibits all access due to sensitive wildlife habitat – the very areas where Pitkin County now want to develop a trail – did wildlife suddenly become insensitive?Maintaining a year-round, disturbance-free condition is about preserving the potential for the long-term survival of wildlife that have been documented to be using these habitats including bighorn, elk, and lynx that require undisturbed habitat in which to overwinter, hunt, forage, breed and raise young and the dozens of human-sensitive birds that use these habitats for foraging, nesting and fledging their young.Trails change and influence the surrounding habitat. The zone of influence from trails goes far beyond the strip of land that the trail occupies. Trail effects include stress that the mere presence of humans induces in sensitive wildlife species. Consequently, trails result in the decline of sensitive species such as bighorn and an increase in human-tolerant species such as raccoons. Many of the areas where Pitkin County wants to build a bike trail are important year-round wildlife habitats. A management strategy of seasonal closures is ineffective at mitigating trail effects because it ignores the fact that wildlife doesn’t use calendars and that some sensitive species use these areas year-round.A study undertaken by the county found that locating the bike trail entirely within the existing highway right of way is feasible – that it was unnecessary to go into undeveloped open space. The State of Colorado Trails Association has guidelines for trail development. These guidelines include, “Avoid sensitive wildlife: Keep a trail – and its zone of influence – away from specific areas of known sensitive species, populations, or communities”. The current trail plan unnecessarily intrudes into sensitive wildlife habitat and violates the principles advocated in this guiding document. For the sake of wildlife, do not develop a bike trail in critical wildlife habitat.Delia MaloneRedstone

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