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The original item was published from 4/30/2020 5:07:57 PM to 9/12/2020 12:00:04 AM.

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Posted on: April 30, 2020

[ARCHIVED] Snowmass Area Seasonal Closures in Effect for Elk Calving

Snowmass Village, Colo. – 2020 – The White River National Forest, Town of Snowmass Village Animal Services, Aspen Skiing Company, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are working together to remind the public that critical elk calving occurs this time of year from Two Creeks to West Buttermilk. Starting April 25, the annual closure and restrictions will be in place through the majority of June. This year, the closure has been extended for one week for most of the area, including the Government Trail. Tom Blake, Sequel, and other trails in the Elk Camp and Two Creeks vicinity will be unaffected by this change.  Trail users are advised to check the new restrictions before heading out.

“This annual closure gives cow elk solitude and free-range to raise their young,” stated Phil Nyland, Wildlife Biologist. “Disturbance caused by humans and dogs is very stressful to elk giving birth and nursing calves. Disturbance may also lead elk to abandon their calves.”

Over the past 5 months, in coordination with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, White River National Forest conducted an evaluation of elk calving needs and solicited public comments regarding a proposal to change the historic closure for the area, except in proximity to Tom Blake, Sequel, and other trails in the Elk Camp and Two Creeks vicinity where the restrictions would remain in place from April 25 through June 20.

“Our desire was to work with the community and partners to develop a closure that is science-based and has community support,” says Kevin Warner, Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.  “In doing so, we found common ground. Folks want to protect elk and their calves, and feel strongly that we should all do our part.”

The proposal was to extend the time frame an additional week in which humans and dogs are restricted to allow late birthing elk longer time to nurse and raise their newborn calves without disturbances that may cause elk to misplace or abandon calves, or injury to calves which struggle to keep up with their mothers. Comments in favor of extending the restricted period were received from 44 entities including partners such as Aspen Skiing Company, Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association, Pitkin County, the Town of Snowmass Village, individual trail users, nearby residents, and the public.

Also brought to light during scoping was an opportunity to align Forest Service regulations with Town of Snowmass Village Ordinances on restrictions that both entities have on the books to protect calving elk. Based on positive feedback from other key partners, the Forest Service aligned its restrictions with the Town of Snowmass Village where the National Forest and Town boundaries overlap.  In the past, in the vicinity of Two Creeks and Anerobic Nightmare, restrictions were enforced earlier by Town Police, and now the new forest order uses the same date of April 25 as the start of restrictions. 

“When it’s all said and done, the closure remains unchanged for Tom Blake Trail, Sequel Trail, and other trails in the Elk Camp and Two-Creeks vicinity of Snowmass Ski Area,” says Scott Fitzwilliams, Forest Supervisor of White River National Forest. “Trails in this vicinity are restricted starting April 25 and open June 21. However, what has change on the ground affects dates that Anaerobic Nightmare, government Trail, and Sugarbowl Trail are restricted.”

The closure includes the following trails:

  • Tom Blake Trail, Sequel Trail and other trails in the Elk Camp and Two Creeks vicinity are closed April 25 through June 20.  These trails and the surrounding area opens June 21.
  • Anaerobic Nightmare Trail is now closed April 25 through June 27. This trail and the surrounding area opens June 28.
  • Government Trail #1980, Sugarbowl Trail are now closed May 15 through June 27.  These trails and the surrounding area opens June 28.

Elk have chosen to return to the Two Creeks – West Buttermilk area every year because the area offers water, forage and the seclusion they need to survive, birth, and nurse without being startled or disrupted.

“This closure protects elk during critical biological functions that ramp up late April and extend to the end of June, says Kurtis Tesch, Colorado Parks and Wildlife.  ”Since the local elk population is in decline and more information on factors affecting calf survival is several years away, a small increase in the time of restricted access is reasonable to allow elk mothers and their calves to nurse, bond, wean and become strong enough to join the herd.”

Wildlife monitoring cameras have shown hikers, dog walkers, and cyclists recreating in the area illegally during the closure period. Violating the closure can result in a fine of up to $5,000 or 6 months in jail, punishable by Forest Service regulation. Violation of Town of Snowmass Village Ordinance also applies in Town limits.

Many other trails in the area are open during this time. Suggested alternative trails include the Highline/Lowline Trails (open year round), Sky Mountain Park (open May 16), North Rim Trail (open May 16), South Rim Trail (open year round), Sam’s Knob and Alpine Springs, Ditch Trail (open year round), and West Government Trail and Elk Camp work roads. Visit Pitkinoutside.com for useful info on all of these trails.

For other trail suggestions, or more information on this seasonal closure, contact the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District at 970-963-2266, or visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.

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