Trails versus wildlife |

Trails versus wildlife

It’s good to see that wildlife advocates have made at least a little progress in drawing attention to the true impacts of recreational trails on wildlife since the days of the Rio Grande trail construction.

Meetings on the Crystal River trail are discussing the timing of construction as it affects wildlife and evaluating the scope of impacts to lands adjacent to various alignments.

The construction of the Rio Grande trail started the beginning of June, eliminating wildlife access to their primary source of water during the most critical period of fawning season. No one will ever know the mortality rate of fawns that year because the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority made sure no baseline studies were conducted to document these losses. Estimates of adjacent lands impacted would have included basically the entire north slope of the Crown Mountain ridgeline from El Jebel to Carbondale comprising thousands of acres. Trails needn’t be so destructive.

Dale Wills of Open Space and Trails defends the effectiveness of closures to protect wildlife. Although questionable at best, closures may provide some protection, but only if actually managed in favor of wildlife instead of recreation. Thus far the RFTA board has voted down their own wildlife biologist’s recommendations to increase closures to better protect wildlife. If Open Space and Trails seeks credibility in wildlife protection, maybe they should be more active in encouraging better protections along trails they’ve already helped establish. The remnants of our once strong Crown Mountain mule deer populations have been reduced to back yard pests and are not going to recover under current management practices. If closures are necessary, the trail is probably in the wrong place and both wildlife and recreation will be compromised.

John Hoffman puts truth into the old adage about loving something to death. He is well intentioned, sincere and actually believes the malarkey he preaches. This makes him very effective in helping people feel good about the destruction of wildlife habitat. Everyone loves bike trails. Who wouldn’t support the construction of a trail if reassured by an expert that it not only wasn’t detrimental to wildlife, but was actually beneficial to it? It would be such a beautiful thing if mere love could solve all of our wildlife woes. This is probably why so many perfectly intelligent people choose to believe him against all common sense and science. It resolves the dissonance most of us have between wanting better trail systems while also wanting to be good stewards of wildlife. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work that way.

Other than protecting and improving their habitats and controlling their populations, human interaction with wildlife never benefits wildlife and can often be dangerous to humans. Would you trust your outpouring of love to protect your young child from a hungry mama mountain lion with two hungry cubs? Even deer and elk are dangerous at too close a proximity. A good healthy mutual fear and respect is essential to safe human/wildlife interactions. Hoffman’s theory on coexistence with wildlife seems to depend on the elimination of hunting practices which would increase the need for predators while also reducing their fear of us. How close do we really want all this activity to our bike trails? Hoffman’s logic breaks down pretty quickly in practical application.

Please Hoffman, take the time to educate yourself with some real wildlife science so that your opinions can be worthy of your intentions. The folks holding the purse strings for trail projects do not share your love of wildlife, but share only their love of the almighty tourist dollar. Your good intentions and sincerity make you the perfect pawn for the tourism industry and the politicians that cater to it. Your current dialog serves only to undermine whatever meager defenses the voiceless community of wildlife has against the onslaught of recreational demands.

The popularity of bike trails has more momentum than a locomotive and can’t be stopped. This makes it all the more important that these “improvements” not be pursued and encouraged through denial and self-deception, but evaluated with full knowledge of actual impacts so wildlife doesn’t lose the support of those that wish to protect it.

Jim Duke


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