Wildlife first, trails second | AspenTimes.com

Wildlife first, trails second

Dear Editor:I don’t know where the notion came from that humans and recreational trails don’t disturb wildlife, but the notion doesn’t have any scientific basis and it’s proving harmful to wildlife. Dale Will is a smart guy, but he is clearly ignorant about the wealth of scientific information that informs us that recreational trails are harmful to native wildlife communities. I spent about three years conducting a scientific study on the impacts of recreational trails on wildlife in this valley, and I can assure Dale that numerous kinds of impacts occur. And just a small point – yes Dale, I have seen “roadkill” on trails innumerable times – fledgling songbirds and small mammals that are the base of the food chain for larger wildlife are frequently run over and killed by bicycles on paved as well as dirt trails. But in the grand scheme of things, this is not the most important negative impact that trails have – rather they introduce disturbance (us) into a natural community that cannot tolerate the level or frequency of human disturbance that trails bring. Not only is wildlife along the trail impacted, but also this zone of impact extends to adjacent habitat for at least 50 meters on each side of the trail. While we may still see magpies, robins and chipmunks, this swath of disturbance renders the area unusable for many sensitive wildlife species.Do dogs impact wildlife? Of course, but bringing up that issue veils the fact that human activities are responsible for unprecedented wildlife declines. Habitat loss is the single most important factor leading to the decline of hundreds of wildlife species that were once common in this valley – we’ve paved wetlands, diverted water, drilled, mined, logged and built in the midst of wildlife habitat. Let’s place the blame for wildlife loss where it belongs, squarely on our shoulders. Why do we feel that we have to muck around in every bit of remaining good habitat? We, unlike dogs, can choose to take the responsible course of action and conserve rather than degrade the small portions of high quality habitat that remain in this landscape.Is a trail as impactive as highways? No, of course not, but trails and their associated impacts promote habitat loss. At this point in the development of the valley, we don’t have much left to lose. Is the area upstream of Catherine Store road pristine? No, but this area is some of the best lower-valley habitat that remains along the Roaring Fork river corridor. Because there is not much undisturbed river corridor habitat remaining, this stretch of riparian habitat has become all the more important for native wildlife. The proposed trail will absolutely result in habitat loss. Let’s take the responsible and humane course of action and think about the entire community of life – not just what gratifies humans in the short term. Don’t build a trail into the wildlife habitat – let wildlife be our priority, and let their needs come before our wants – for a change. Delia G. MaloneAspen

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