Heading to the mountains to see the golden aspen leaves, Lots of Coloradans in the fall should hear the bull’s trumpet. The high-pitched bellow of a male elk signals the start of mating season – an inspiring call to wildlife watchers and a harbinger for hunters of the hunt to come.
But a new analysis by a sports group says the Rocky Mountain icon is under increasing pressure from human encroachment on the areas it uses to migrate, search for food, shelter and give birth. Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Report It takes a look at the impact of the state’s burgeoning outdoor recreation and more than 40,000 miles of designated trails used by hikers, mountain bikers, motorcyclists, and more.
Approximately 40% of the most important statewide elk habitat identified in the report overlaps the trails, resulting in the animals avoiding more than 8 million out of the approximately 22 million acres. The analysis warns that threats to those areas could undermine the health of the animals, The largest herd of elk in the world.
“I think the most important message is that there are impacts on all of our recreational endeavours,” Colorado field representative Liz Rose told TRCP.
The pressures on elk are of sufficient concern that Colorado Parks and Wildlife is studying why the number of elk calves being born and surviving to adulthood is declining in parts of the state.
A 2020 executive order was issued by Governor Jared Polis to establish The Outdoor Regional Partnerships Initiative in Colorado To promote local and state action on balancing recreation and conservation. To date, the consortiums have received a total of about $1.3 million from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Great Outdoors Colorado.
Wildlife-related recreation—hunting, fishing, and tourism—is big business in Colorado. It generates $5 billion annually and supports 40,000 jobs. The estimated 309,000 elk roaming Colorado makes the state a hunting and wildlife viewing destination.
The TRCP report also acknowledges the huge economic contribution of outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation contributed $9.6 billion to Colorado’s economy in 2020 It supported 120,063 jobs across the state, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.
The report recommends ways to balance wildlife conservation with the demand for outdoor recreation opportunities, which are increasingly important to local economies.
“There are choices that agencies can make in planning to ensure that we do not jeopardize the long-term stability of Colorado’s game population, and that we are able to maintain the outdoor entertainment industry, economy, and game populations,” Rose said. .
TRCP recommendations include avoiding high-priority elk habitats when planning trails where possible; limit the use of roads and trails during times of the year when elk or other large game animals are present if construction in the area is not feasible; Reducing the density of roads and lanes where seasonal closures are not practical.
Madeline West, director of the TRCP Center for Public Lands, said Colorado has been a pioneer in focusing on the effects of oil and gas development on wildlife habitats.
There is a lot of science and public awareness on this issue. What we are trying to present is that there is science about influences from entertainment tracks as well,” West said.
The immediate impact TRCP hopes its report will have land management office, which manages 8.3 million acres of federal public lands in Colorado and 27 million acres of federal minerals under federal and state lands. The BLM is considering making changes to Colorado’s land use plans to include preserving the Great Game’s migration corridors and habitat in decisions related to oil and gas development.
“BLM left the door open for comments on whether other uses should be considered. We said recreation is one other activity on the landscape that should be analyzed if the purpose is really to preserve and conserve big game habitats,” West said.
Off the beaten path
Many wildlife species face increasing obstacles as the population of Colorado grows. They face disruption and habitat loss from new homes and roads, energy development, drought and climate change. A 2021 report by the National Wildlife Federation and Conservation Science Partners He said that the wildlife being hunted has lost an average of 6.5 million acres of vital habitat over the past two decades.
When it comes to recreation, a lot of research is focused on elk, said John Holst, TRCP’s senior wildlife and energy advisor.
“Deer in particular look like canaries in a coal mine to trail-based disturbance. They seem particularly sensitive to use for tracking,” said Holst, a wildlife biologist formerly at Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
Research published in 2018 led by the US Forest Service I looked at how far the elk was from the recreation paths. The distance varied based on the type of recreation: 1,795-2,172 feet for hikers and mountain bikers; About 2,884 feet of ATVs.
Problems occur when the areas that elk avoid are places of birth, migration corridors, and lands with shelter and food in winter and summer in the mountains.
Use of recreational trails in Colorado grew 44% between 2014 and 2019, according to a 2019 report by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The TRCP analysis was based on high-priority habitats identified by state wildlife experts and trails included in Colorado Trail Explorer Introduction by the state.
Holst said the analysis does not show that some trails are closed at certain times of the year to reduce disruptions to wildlife.
“The flip side is that there are a lot of unassigned and user-generated paths,” Holst said. “What in our analysis is really an underestimate of how many pathways there are.”
Doug Vilsack, director of the Colorado Bureau of Land Management, said wildlife and land management agencies have been talking for some time about what it means to increase outdoor recreation for wildlife.
“We saw a 30% increase in recreational activities in 2020” on BLM lands, said Vilsack, who previously worked with the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “In the last two years, we’ve seen a 23-25% increase year over year.”
An estimated 9.6 million people visited BLM-managed lands in Colorado in 2019, spokesman Stephen Holl said in an email. Visitation jumped to 12.5 million in 2020.
Rates of outdoor recreation have soared across the country after COVID-19 restrictions shut down other forms of entertainment. The Outdoor Industry Association 53% of Americans age 6 and older said they re-established outdoors at least once in 2020, the highest rate ever.
The BLM tracks activity at designated campgrounds and recreation sites, but Vilsack said staff know that people are also in informal sites. BLM acknowledges that its maps do not show paths that people have created themselves.
The BLM is updating its land use plans in Colorado as part of the settlement of a lawsuit by the state regarding the protection of wildlife and natural resources. Vilsack said the BLM should finish work by mid-2023 and it was unclear whether the amendment to the plans would explore the effects of entertainment.
“There is a clear focus on oil and gas and a timeline, but a broad focus on these recreational effects is a priority for BLM in this case,” Vilsack said.
Andy Holland, director of large games at CPW, said Colorado’s elk herd population of about 309,000 has been stable in the past few years, but the total numbers don’t tell the whole story. There has been about 20 years of decline in the cow-to-calf ratios: the number of calves for every 100 female elk.
“It tells us how many calves were born and how many calves survived to January,” Holland said.
Over the past 18 years, CPW has significantly reduced the number of hunting licenses for bovine elk to stabilize their numbers. The agency is also looking at why cow-to-calf ratios are low in certain parts of the state. The causes may vary from region to region: drought, energy development, predators, and outdoor recreation, Holland said.
“Recreation is a concern for us,” Holland said. “The number of people enjoying the outdoors in Colorado has increased and so has our anxiety.”
Death a thousand cuts
The TRCP report does a good job of identifying the effects of recreation trails on elk, said Aaron Kindle, director of sports advocacy for the Colorado-based National Wildlife Federation.
“We have the mentality of everyone going out, which is great. We want people outside,” Kendall said.
But Kindle said the right kind of management and funding is needed to deal with the increase in outdoor recreation.
“It really is death by a thousand cuts. You have all these little country towns growing in places like the (wildlife) winter range,” Kendall said.
And Kindle added that during the pandemic, people who could work remotely started moving to places like Colorado because they could live anywhere and they liked the lifestyle. “Things are approaching the climax.”
In Root County, mountain bikers have been waiting for action on a proposal for more trails. said Craig Frithsen, CEO Root County Riderswhich defends mountain bikers in Northwest Root County.
The so-called Mad Rabbit project called for nearly 50 miles of new trails in the Root National Forest That would connect the Mad Creek area to the Rabbit Ears Pass. Some planned trails have been dropped due to concerns about elk habitat. The Forest Service is preparing an environmental review of the project and getting input from state wildlife officials.
“There really hasn’t been much trail development on public lands with mountain bikes in mind for their explosive popularity,” Frithsen said.
Existing paths are closed for periods to allow elk to use certain areas, Fritzen said. Some suggested routes have been challenged by Keep rottwild, which includes hunters and defenders of wildlife. Larry Desjardins, a hunter and mountain biker, is the head of the group. He said the Forest Service should write an environmental impact statement to suggest the route because some of the land is in off-road areas.
The environmental impact statement will be more comprehensive and likely to take longer than the review planned by the agency. The public will have an opportunity to comment when the draft revision is released.
Fritzen said he trusts the agencies to come up with the best plan. He said the cycling group has nothing against hunting and is concerned about wildlife, but he believes mountain bikers are discriminated against.
“We feel that hunting is perfectly legitimate entertainment, but we have issues with hunting groups trying to restrict or prevent other user groups from accessing public lands,” Frithsen said.
But TRCP’s Holst said the lack of elk would not only be a loss for hunters. “If we didn’t have that famous, world-renowned supplier, we’d be missing out on something, something that makes Colorado Colorado.”
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