A sign in front of the parking lot for the Mad Creek trailhead informs users that the trail has been closed temporarily to help protect wildlife in the Yampa Valley.  According to the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife officials, as big game herds are forced out of native winter range because of human disturbance, the animals move to town and into inferior habitat where conflict occurs with the public, vehicles and the agriculture industry.

Photo by John F. Russell

A sign in front of the parking lot for the Mad Creek trailhead informs users that the trail has been closed temporarily to help protect wildlife in the Yampa Valley. According to the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife officials, as big game herds are forced out of native winter range because of human disturbance, the animals move to town and into inferior habitat where conflict occurs with the public, vehicles and the agriculture industry.

Forest Service warns that voluntary trail closures might not be enough to protect big game

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A bull elk stands in a meadow just off Walton Creek Road last winter. The elk, and another, were foraging for food and drew a good-sized crowd of onlookers at times. According to the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife officials, as big game herds are forced out of native winter range due to human disturbance, the animals move to town and into inferior habitat where conflict occurs with the public, vehicles and the agriculture industry. The closed areas provide pockets of habitat where deer and elk find security and food during the harsh winter months without being disturbed by human activities.

Trail closures

■ Spring Creek Trail (Trail 1160) — mandatory closure on national forest land

■ Swamp Park Trail (known as the Mad Creek Trail, Trail 1100)

■ Red Dirt Trail (Trail 1171)

■ Hot Springs Trail (Trail 1169)

■ Lower Bear Trail (Trail 1206)

■ Area between the Steamboat Ski Area and Alpine Mountain Ranch

■ Greenville Mine area (Forest Road 440)

■ Sarvis Creek Trail

■ Silver Creek Trail

■ South of Long Park on Forest Road 225

■ North of Toponas on Forest Road 285

■ Areas adjacent to the Radium and Indian Run state wildlife areas

Source: U.S. Forest Service

— Voluntary trail closures are becoming less effective at protecting big game herds during winter months, local U.S. Forest Service workers say. Increased mandatory trail closures could be the end result.

Forest Service officials are urging people to stay away from the areas served by voluntary trail closures or areas designated as winter range areas for big game like elk and deer.

The Forest Service released a list of trails last week that it asked people to avoid. Some of the trails include popular routes like the Mad Creek, Red Dirt and Hot Springs trails. The list also includes the mandatory closure of the Spring Creek Trail where it crosses onto national forest land north of the ponds. Mandatory closures are those that the Forest Service can legally enforce.

Forest Service spokesman Larry Sandoval, who works out of the Laramie, Wyo., office, said if the voluntary closures weren’t enough to protect elk and deer habit, more mandatory closures may be required. However, Sandoval said the Forest Service hopes more education and information will prevent that step from becoming necessary.

“Alerting the public that this is an issue and telling them there are better areas to recreate is the best-case scenario,” he said.

Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife Officer Danielle Domson said big game habitat is shrinking because the south-facing slopes that are less steep and receive less snow are ideal for both development and recreation.

“We’re just giving the elk fewer and fewer areas to stay on their winter range areas without added human encroachment,” she said.

Domson said elk can use up the energy they store to survive the long winters if they have to run away from people or dogs. She added that high snowpack and cold temperatures exacerbate the problem by pushing elk herds to lower elevations and closer to town, where they are more likely to come into contact with people and their pets and vehicles.

Last year particularly was tough for elk calves, Domson said.

The Forest Service asks people to stay in designated national forest winter recreation areas like Buffalo Pass, Rabbit Ears Pass, Gore Pass, Lynx Pass, Bear River corridor (entrance to the Flat Tops), Dunckley Pass, South Fork Trail (Trail 1100.5A), Forest Road 430/Scott Run (Trail 1177) and Hahn’s Peak Lake Area on Forest Roads 486 and 488.

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

kathy foos 3 years ago

It's not asking too much in my opinion.It could make life alot more secure for the elk.Loosing so many calves last year,it seems reasonable that some areas are reserved for them ,I hope it works.The Forest Service should try to manage the forest for all living things,they certinally are very well educated and would not have done this without the need.Summer would be a different story and I'm glad that the rule will not effect the trails after the April 15 opening.I didn't hear about the moose's.Do they hang with the Elk?

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