Trails closed to help wildlife

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Courtesy closures are in effect for some local recreation areas until April 15 to limit human contact with big game animals. Wildlife officials say that decreasing the stress on the animals and allowing them access to traditional winter feeding areas help ensure their survival.

Open recreation areas

Buffalo Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass, South Fork Trail (NFST 1100.5A) - south of the Elk River with parking at the Hinman parking area, and NSFR 430/Scott Run (NFST 1177). Other suggestions include west of Routt County Road 129 at Hahn's Peak Lake Area on NFSR 486, NFSR 488 and the area north of Columbine.

Courtesy closures

Greenville Mine area (National Forest Service Road 440), Red Dirt Trail (National Forest Service Trail 1171), Swamp Park Trail (known as Mad Creek Trail, NFST 1100), Hot Springs Trail (NFST 1169), Lower Bear Trail (NFST 1206), Spring Creek Trail (NFST 1160) and areas south of the Steamboat Ski Area.

— While the end of the primary hunting season could come as a relief to big game animals, they now must make it through a critical feeding period to help them bulk up and survive the winter.

The animals are getting some help from the U.S. Forest Service, which has enacted several annual "courtesy closures" in a few popular recreation areas. The courtesy closures are effective Nov. 15 to April 15.

"By keeping humans and dogs out of the area, it's a big help to the deer and elk and big game," said Becky Jones, a wildlife technician for the Routt National Forest-Hahn's Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District.

The courtesy closures are different from legal closures such as the ones on Rabbit Ears Pass, which limit motorized-use areas to the east side of the pass. People can be fined for violating a legal closure.

If the public abides by the courtesy closures, Forest Service officials won't have to make them legal closures, spokeswoman Diann Ritschard said.

The courtesy closures are in winter range areas, which are typically on the fringes of the forest. Less snow and southern exposures attract big game to the areas because it is easier to find food such as Gambel's oakbrush, serviceberry, chokecherry and aspen. Not stressing big game animals is crucial this time of year as their metabolism slows in preparation for winter.

"Stressing them is not a good thing," Jones said. "They need all the breaks they can get."

Closure signs are located at trailheads near big game winter ranges.

The U.S. Forest Service works closely with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to ensure healthy big game animal populations. By eliminating human contact with the animals, wildlife officials can limit winter kill rates, and it also discourages the animals from wandering onto private lands or areas inhabited by humans where they can damage or eat property.

Last winter's heavy snows trapped several deer and elk herds in non-traditional areas, and some herds broke into hay storage areas on local ranches to find food. Many animals starved to death before they could reach areas to feed.

- To reach Matt Stensland, call 871-4210

or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com

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