Forest service requests people keep their distance from deer and elk
Herds have moved to lower elevations in Routt County and may be startled by humans
January 10, 2010
Stay off trails
The U.S. Forest Service has requested that people stay away from Lower Bear Trail, Hot Springs Trail, Mad Creek Trail, Red Dirt Trail, Greenville Mine Road and Coulton Creek Trail. Spring Creek Trail is closed at the forest boundary up to Dry Lake.
In south Routt County, the Forest Service asks that people stay away from Silver Creek Trail, off Routt County Road 16, and Sarvis Creek Trail, off of C.R. 18.
The U.S. Forest Service is requesting that people stay off several trails across Routt County that have been identified as areas where elk and deer herds likely are congregating, in an effort to ease the stress on the animals during the winter.
During winter, many of the animals move to lower elevations to find food, often congregating near the trailheads or access roads that people want to visit.
Those herds are struggling to survive, and the wildlife experts at the Forest Service warn that the animals may wear themselves out to the point of exhaustion when confronted by people.
"Human contact with deer and elk contribute to the winter kill rates and can have a detrimental effect on female animals carrying offspring," Forest Service wildlife expert Becky Jones said.
Wildlife biologist Robert Skorkowsky said people passing through winter herd areas also drive the animals out of their traditional, and largely safe, areas onto highways and places where they run into more conflict with people.
"I'm not sure their survival rate would change so much, but it's to avoid these other associated conflicts," he said.
Skorkowsky said there is a large herd area just south of Steamboat Ski Area and that the Forest Service has posted signs at the benches on the Broadway ski run telling people about the habitat below them and requesting that they not go out of bounds in that area.
When people do that, it pushes the elk out of the area, and they end up crossing U.S. Highway 40 as they go toward places such as the Haymaker Golf Course.
The Forest Service recommends that people stay at least 400 yards away from any animals they encounter and try not to spook the herds.
"Elk and deer can't move through deep snow easily when they become frightened, and they may expend all of their energy to flee," Jones said. "They have stored energy, in the form of fat, all summer and into the fall. Stress and deep snow can cause them to lose that energy rather quickly."
The Forest Service has put up "courtesy closures" for seven trails: Lower Bear Trail, Hot Springs Trail, Mad Creek Trail, Red Dirt Trail, Greenville Mine Road and Coulton Creek Trail. Spring Creek Trail is closed at the forest boundary up to Dry Lake.
In south Routt County, the Forest Service is asking that people stay away from Silver Creek Trail, off Routt County Road 16, and Sarvis Creek Trail, off of C.R. 18.
People are advised to go to areas less frequented by wintering elk. Recommendations are the Buffalo Pass and Rabbit Ears Pass areas, the south fork of the Elk River with parking at the Hinman parking area and the Hahn's Peak Lake area, accessible by Forest Service roads 486 and 488.