Guest commentary: Build a trail, sacrifice Crystal River Valley’s wildlife |

Guest commentary: Build a trail, sacrifice Crystal River Valley’s wildlife

Does anyone remember that Dotty Fox, Connie Harvey and Joy Caudill, the founders of the Wilderness Workshop, were the women responsible for the designation and preservation of the Hunter-Fryingpan, the Collegiate Peaks, Raggeds and West Elks Wilderness areas, as well as the expansion of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wildness areas? Nearly half a million acres protected by these women.

I had the privilege and honor of serving on their board of directors way back when board meetings convened around Fox’s kitchen table. These women were the most formidable environmental advocates I’ve ever met and will always be my most revered heroes. Recent questioning of their legacy is more than I can tolerate.

Anyone who claims that the presence of houses has more impact on wildlife than a bike trail does is either being intentionally deceptive or is far too naive about wildlife issues to be on any board offering environmental advice. All wildlife experts and studies support the contrary. Such claims are playing on the common misconception that bicycles are so eco-friendly that they couldn’t possibly be harmful to nature. The unfortunate truth is that their wonderful silence and high speed is exactly what makes them incompatible with wildlife. They silently and rapidly encroach the comfort zones of wildlife before the animals have time to react and flee.

The bicycle’s silent speed and enthusiastic hordes are certain to drive off wildlife. Most neighborhoods are much less traveled and more predictable than bike trails are. Immediately after the construction of the Rio Grande Trail, my neighborhood along the river experienced a huge influx of great blue herons feeding in small creeks, ditches and ponds around our homes. The traffic here is much lighter and more predictable than along the bike trail on the river. You will see more deer in the neighborhoods of Carbondale than you will see along the Rio Grande Trail.

Having lived across the river from the Rio Grande railroad for 20 years before the trail was constructed, I never saw a deer in our neighborhood in all that time, but saw dozens coming down for water across the river every morning. Since the construction of the trail, it is rare to see a deer across the river in its natural habitat while there are countless habituated deer wandering lost around our neighborhood.

These animals don’t want to be in our towns and neighborhoods but have been forced off their natural habitats. They are no longer part of our beautiful, wild and free herds, but have been reduced to the level of backyard pests that often have to be exterminated as nuisance conditions as is happening with whitetail deer across the Midwest.

Yes, we want trails. But we don’t need to sacrifice wildlife to have them. If this region chooses to sacrifice wildlife to have more scenic trails for recreation and tourism, let’s do it with full understanding of the consequences and not in a state of denial.

Jim Duke has served on boards for the Independence Pass Foundation, Wilderness Workshop, Mt. Sopris Natural Resource Conservation District, Valley Resource Management, and the Carbondale Environmental Advisory Board. Semi-retired, he works seasonally as wrangler/guide in Maroon Bells Wilderness and hunting guide in Flattops Wilderness, and lives in a homemade log cabin with his wife, Kathy, along with his dogs, donkeys and mules.

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