Coexisting peacefully with wildlife

The Crystal River Trail holds some special opportunities on the east side of the river along the railroad grade, for both wildlife and humans. When my wife and I hitchhiked around the world, we were privileged to observe first-hand the effects of turning an area into a place where people and animals can interact and coexist harmlessly.

What happens when people become harmless to the animals, and the trusting effect that has on the creatures living there?

In the Galapagos, it was thousands of nesting birds, iguanas, seals, tortoises, finches, sharks, donkeys and all fauna and flora that were shown deference, gentleness, attention and regard; instead of hunting animals, we appreciate them and the animals thrive. Harmlessness was rewarded with complete access by all the creatures.

In contrast, the feral goats, pigs, rats, cats and dogs on the islands were fearful because they were run down, exterminated or fed upon. Being hunted, they feared us and changed their habits to miss our presence. The same dynamic held in New Zealand and Australia, where the fauna is protected in the forests and the ocean reefs; outside that protection and human appreciation, the environment deteriorates. Even the massively visited Eco-Parks of China show a rebound of wildlife with protection and appreciation.

My takeaway is that the animal kingdom thrives on harmless attention and loving intent from the human population.

This was again reinforced here when Jim Duke and I walked the hillside above the rail bed of the Rio Grande corridor between Catherine’s Bridge and Rock Bottom Ranch. Before the rails were removed and the trail put in, the hillside was devoid of animal presence. The old animal trails were unused, no tracks or spoor, along the 3-mile length. It must have been an important corridor to the river for the creatures living on the Crown, but animals were not using it. After the trail was built I noticed that the animal trails to the river blossomed in use. I worked the intersections to remove leg breakers along the side trails from the construction detritus.

Johnathan Lowsky conducted a 5-year study for RFTA showing a steady increase of use by the fauna along the Rio Grande Trail between Catherine’s and Rock Bottom after the trail opened.

We have an age-old relationship with wildlife that thrives on mutual respect, honor and exposure to each other. The folks living above the Filoha trail know how special that area is for humans, sheep, elk and deer; they used to walk the valley with their dogs weekly until Pitkin County purchased it, and did a wildlife study recommending controlled usage and winter closures.

I have a lot of respect for Kevin Wright, but there is a huge difference in how an animal reacts to humans when they are being hunted or even just manipulated to optimize the hunt. Animals know our intent. We can make it special for wildlife by showing them human harmlessness and appreciation instead of hunting them down for trophies. Meat hunters already know they need a relationship with their game that includes respect.

Let’s put the trail on the railroad grade where it belongs, everywhere we can, to benefit the animals and humans both. It also will improve access to the hundreds of homes on that side of the river.

John Hoffman