Emerald Mountain’s Blackmere Trail closed after dog attacks elk calf
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — An elk calf was attacked by a dog near the trailhead of Blackmere Drive on Emerald Mountain this morning, closing the trail for the day.
A Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer was dispatched to the scene after Routt County Communications received a call from the dog owner about the incident.
The calf, which was found about 15 yards south of the trailhead, didn’t have any apparent wounds, according to Kris Middledorf, Colorado Parks and Wildlife area wildlife manager, who arrived on scene at about 8:30 a.m.
After consulting a CPW veterinarian, Middledorf moved the calf farther off the trail to prevent additional interactions with humans or pets.
“I picked up that calf and moved it about 100 to 150 yards southwest away from the trail into the grass and some scrub oak and brush,” he said.
He expects the mother elk to return this evening to retrieve her calf.
It is unknown whether Thursday’s attack occurred at an off-leash section of the trail, but dogs must be under voice and sight control at all times.
“The road is what’s off-leash. It is not the areas off the road,” said Craig Robinson, interim director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
CPW is working with Steamboat Springs Police Department animal control officers to investigate Thursday’s incident and to contact the dog’s owner. The trail is expected to reopen Friday morning, when leashes will be required from the beginning of Blackmere Trail to the intersection of Emerald Meadows through Sept. 1.
Thursday’s attack happened near the location of another pet-wildlife incident in spring 2015, when a dog severely injured an elk calf that was later euthanized. At the time of that attack, pets were required to be leashed along the trail.
The majority of Blackmere Trail now is designated as off-leash seasonally, after Steamboat Springs City Council approved in October 2017 a one-year trial for dogs to run free on the popular Emerald Mountain trail as well as at Whistler and Stehly parks.
The plan, which was proposed by volunteer group Steamboat Digs Dogs, was unanimously endorsed by the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Before the plan was approved, CPW was asked to provide feedback for City Council and the commission about the probability of conflicts with wildlife. Middledorf and his team deemed Blackmere Drive, Whistler Park and lower Spring Creek trail as areas with a high potential for conflict with wildlife.
“Based on prior issues, we felt that those three off-leash areas could become a problem,” Middledorf said. “We do not support the activity of off-leash dogs in these parks.”
Another incident occurred in December 2017, when an off-leash dog attacked a goat on Butcherknife Trail.
Ulrich Salzgeber, a volunteer with Steamboat Digs Dogs, said these types of incidents are rare.
“We’re concerned, and of course, we don’t want these kinds of interactions between our pets and wildlife,” he said.
He said the group’s education efforts have been incredibly successful and volunteers have worked to raise awareness among pet owners about requirements for voice and sight command as well as when to put dogs on leash.
“We understand there will be isolated incidents like this, which we horribly regret, but there is probably no way to avoid it 100 percent of the time,” Salzgeber said.
Steamboat Digs Dogs and the Parks and Recreation Commission will return to City Council this fall to provide an update about the yearlong off-leash trial period.