Wildlife officials explain midvalley winter closures | AspenTimes.com

Wildlife officials explain midvalley winter closures

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesKevin Wright, district wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, explains the need to protect winter wildlife habitat for deer and elk during a meeting Wednesday in Basalt.

BASALT – Area wildlife officials on Wednesday defended proposed winter closures on midvalley lands where year-round recreation has been the norm, hearing few objections from residents who gathered at Basalt Town Hall to hear the explanation.

About 30 people attended the presentation, organized by Pitkin County after the proposed closures – detailed in the county’s comments on the Bureau of Land Management’s draft management plan – caught midvalley residents off guard.

“The rumor mill really got going here,” said Kevin Wright, Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager in Aspen.

Some residents mistakenly believed the popular Arbaney-Kittle Trail was targeted for a winter closure, and the county initially proposed a complete winter closure on Light Hill but then modified its stance to match the wildlife agency’s position. Access to the ridge on Light Hill from the Gateway subdivision and East Sopris Creek Road would be maintained during the winter, but both the county and Parks and Wildlife want access from behind Basalt High School closed in wintertime.

The BLM land known as the Crown, at the base of Mount Sopris, and Williams Hill in Old Snowmass are also proposed for the winter closure, from Dec. 1 through April 30. Arbaney Mesa, the area to the east of the overlook that is the common turnaround spot for Arbaney-Kittle hikers, would also be closed under the county’s and wildlife agency’s recommendations. The trail to the overlook would remain open.

Only Basalt resident John Walker questioned whether the struggling elk and mule deer herds that Wright described could be blamed on human presence.

“I’m hesitant to close off all these areas in the wintertime,” he said. “I just don’t think shutting it down is the definite answer.”

There are many factors for population numbers and birth rates that are below target levels among area deer and elk herds, Wright agreed, but human activity in critical winter range, where the animals are trying to survive on little food, is one of them, he said.

“We do have an impact. We really do,” Wright said.

“Don’t get me wrong – I love to ski, I love to hike. … I see the point where you have to cut it off. There has to be a balance between recreation and the wildlife needs in the area,” said John Groves, district wildlife manager in Carbondale.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife hasn’t yet submitted its comments on the BLM plan, but the agency will express “major opposition” to the Crown being managed for recreation, Groves said.

“One of the most critical winter ranges we have here is the Crown,” Wright said. “It is extremely important from a wildlife standpoint.”

Some in the audience, though, suggested BLM designation of the 9,100 acres on the Crown as a “special recreation management area” would give the property better supervision and enforcement.

“That area is just getting pounded to death,” one person said.

“Managing these public lands is beyond the capacity of our managers,” countered Tom Cardamone, who is soon to step away from his role as executive director of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. The community must manage them, he said.

The county has suggested a special management plan be created for the Crown, a hugely popular mountain-biking area during the summer. It also sees winter use, though it is closed to motorized uses during the winter.

For the midvalley areas where winter closures are suggested, the county has proposed a community process to define the “carrying capacity” of the parcels and individualized plans for their management, according to Cindy Houben, the county’s community development director.

Resident Bud Eylar asked if that meant limiting the number of people using a property, but the question went unanswered.

The BLM will weigh the comments it receives and is expected to release a single proposed alternative to guide management of all the acreage in its Colorado River Valley. Some 20,000 comments had been submitted by mid-January; the agency has extended the comment period to Feb. 29.

The management plan will guide future management decisions on 505,000 surface acres and 707,000 acres of subsurface minerals managed by the BLM field office in Silt. The BLM manages 13 parcels in Pitkin County, encompassing 27,490 acres.

Go to http://www.aspentimes.com/blm to find the draft plan and make comments.



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