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Wilderness for wildlife

Dear Editor:

In Colorado, the White River National Forest and our surrounding landscape is of national importance. It includes key areas for wildlife migration corridors and core habitat for our big game elk herds, known as the largest in the United States, and bighorn sheep.

The present existing wilderness designated areas are above 10,000 feet. These areas are mostly inhospitable to big game breeding, such as elk, which require lower elevations for migratory routes to ensure healthy gene mix for the species to survive.

Because of loss of habitat, due to development, fragmentation with roads, off-road paths caused by mechanized and motorized vehicles, and increased public recreation on public lands, the healthy sustainability of our wildlife is decreasing precipitously. According to the DOW, in the ’80s and ’90s this area’s elk herds had a sustainable “elk reproduction” (calf to cow ratios) of 58 to 60 calves per 100 elk cows. Since then, they have been on a steady decline and today some herds are producing only in the teens, 17 to 19 calves per every 100 cows of elk.

We therefore need to protect the needed low elevations where these elk and wildlife can feed, breed and thrive unimpeded by human contact and recreation. We should be supporting the proposed Wilderness Hidden Gems – for animals simply cannot thrive where humans recreate.

Scientific studies have shown that with increased human contact, animal stress rates soar, depleting their fat reserves and reproduction levels. The Georgetown bighorn sheep herd, for example, has a mortality rate of 90 percent to 95 percent of calves born ,because of human contact and development into their habitat. The DOW is also finding this trend in the herd of the Fryingpan area.

With the increase of recreational activities (winter and summer) and the greater demand for sport activities to venture further and further off road into former undesignated wilderness areas of our public lands, we need to take a stand today to protect these last remaining areas, for the sake of our big game wildlife. We need to support Wilderness Hidden Gems from further fragmentation of our public land and loss of natural forage areas. This is so critical to our wildlife.

Do we want to leave a legacy where our unique Colorado big game will be seen only in the zoo in a few more generations?

With the human population doubling every 27 years, and demand on our public lands increasing the depletion of healthy big game herds, we should take a moral stand to preserve what is left in the White River National Forest of Colorado. Please support Hidden Gems Wilderness Workshop by sending letters to your state representatives and county commissioners, and go online to Wilderness Workshop Hidden Gems.

It is a small price to give up some areas where we thrill and recreate, for the needed low- and middle-range areas where our last remaining gems of wildlife can survive.

Junee Kirk

Aspen


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