When I moved to the Aspen area in the spring of 1986, I’d been working on a PhD program concerning antelope winter food habits north of Maybell, Colorado. As with most wildlife research, it was funded by the wrong team, in this case the Sheep and Wool Growers Association. Their goal was to prove that there were too many antelope, not too many sheep in that region.
A primary contributor to this study was a rancher who had just gotten out of federal prison for shooting bald eagles. Even my M.S. research on mountain goat food habits in Alaska had been funded by folks hoping to find that anything, other than hunting license sales, was causing the decline in these populations.
In Aspen, I was thrilled to find a community where the right team had all the money, a stronghold of environmental warriors with the whereabouts to make a difference. I quit the poverty of a professional student and made this my home. Over the decades it became apparent that many of these “environmental warriors” were merely riders of the latest fads, able to easily switch alliances from wildlife to recreation by popular demand. These folks pose the greatest of all modern-day threats to our wildlife by using their environmental reputations to help otherwise well-intentioned people feel good about the destruction of wildlife.
Many trail advocates point to the Rio Grande Trail as a success story in integrating recreation with wildlife. It has been a success for recreation, a disaster for wildlife. While some species, such as bald eagles and blue herons, thankfully seem to be recovering from the intrusion of the trail, most have not. Many survivors of the Crown Mountain mule deer populations can now be found along the frontage road between Catherine Store and Valley Road, some dead in the bar ditch. This could easily be remedied if RFTA would just follow the recommendations of their hired wildlife biologist to increase the fall closure period. They voted not to.
I’ve come to have great respect for those few brave individuals willing to be up-front about the sacrifice of wildlife in their pursuit of recreation. At least these folks don’t undermine what little support our helpless wildlife has against the onslaught of recreational demands. Meanwhile, the political chameleons who present themselves as wildlife advocates have become most adept at convincing others, against all science and logic, that their recreational trails actually somehow benefit wildlife. Gee, maybe we should concentrate our human traffic in birthing grounds and such. Who really believes that garbage?
While most would be outraged by the rancher shooting bald eagles, these turncoats are recognized as environmental heroes while potentially destroying more wildlife than could (or would) any rancher with a rifle. I can respect an honest adversary.