U.S. Forest Service officials are asking winter recreation enthusiasts to keep away from trails that are close to big-game winter range areas.
Every year, Forest Service officials post "courtesy closure" signs at trailheads near or in the ranges, where elk and deer are likely to be. Trails that are marked include the Spring Creek and Hot Springs trails.
The closures, which last from Nov. 15 to April 30, are not regulated by law, said Jason Szyba, a biological science technician with the Forest Service. But keeping off the trails is a way to help maintain elk and deer populations, he said.
"We are asking people to respect the wildlife, especially after hunting season," which makes animals skittish and use up a lot of energy, Szyba said.
Big-game winter ranges are on the fringes of the forest, Szyba said. These areas generally are at lower elevations and have southern exposures, so they have less snow. Elk and deer can forage on aspen, chokecherry and other food sources.
Szyba said some people respect the courtesy closures, but others think they are not hurting big game if they don't see any. "They're definitely there, they may just be out of sight or bedded down for the day," Szyba said.
During the winter, animals' metabolism, heart rate and breathing slows because of a lack of food. This makes it more difficult for the animals to stay away from people, Szyba said.
"It's a sensitive time of year for them. They have been feeding all summer, putting on fat for winter. The food now is not as nutritional," he said. "If they are disturbed, they use more of the winter resources they have saved up."
Also, he said, females carry young in the winter and should not be disturbed.
"They have a better chance of birthing healthy babies in the springtime," he said.
Deer and elk that are disrupted are often forced onto private land, Szyba said, where they can damage haystacks.
Szyba recommends that, at a minimum, people keep one-fourth of a mile from wintering deer and elk. It's even better, he said, for people to recreate outside of winter ranges.
U.S. Forest Service winter recreation recommendations Courtesy closure areas: Greenville Mine area (Forest Road 440) Red Dirt trail (Forest Trail 1171) Swamp Park trail (a.k.a. Mad Creek trail, Forest Trail 1100) Hot Springs trail (Forest Trail 1169) Lower Bear trail (Forest Trail 1206) Spring Creek trail (Forest Trail 1160) Suggested recreation areas: Buffalo Pass Rabbit Ears Pass South Fork trail (Forest Trail 1100.5A), south of the Elk River with parking at the Hinman parking area, which is non-motorized, and Forest Road 430/ Scott Run (Forest Trail 1177). West of Routt County Road 129 at the Hahn's Peak Lake Area on Forest Road 486, Forest Road 488 and the area north of Columbine. For more information, call the U.S. Forest Service at 879-1870.