Garfield County Planning Commission recommends eagle buffer zone be removed at Aspen Glen
Suggests further expert input from state wildlife officials
A request by the corporate owners of three undeveloped parcels in Aspen Glen to remove a protective bald eagle buffer zone so they can be sold off and eventually built out will go to the Garfield County commissioners with a recommendation for approval.
However, county Planning Commission members said during a lengthy public hearing on the matter Wednesday night that the commissioners should also get some better clarity from state wildlife officers about the potential ramifications.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife advised in a May letter to county planners that, because the historic nest that the buffer zone was meant to protect no longer exists, the buffer zone protections are no longer needed.
The top half of the tree where the nesting site had existed since at least the late 1940s, blew over in a June 2018 windstorm, according to Parks and Wildlife documentation.
Eagles that frequent the area have since established a new nesting site less than a mile upstream, and near several houses that were already built.
The May CPW letter essentially reiterated a stance taken when the Aspen Glen Golf Co. made its initial request in fall 2020. At that time, county commissioners ruled that the request constitutes a “substantial change” to the Aspen Glen PUD approvals, subject to a full application and public hearing. That application was submitted in late March of this year.
After numerous Aspen Glen residents commented during the Wednesday hearing against removing the buffer zone, saying a more extensive wildlife impact study is needed, planning commissioners agreed the CPW position lacks detail.
“I was involved in this 28 years ago,” Planning Commissioner Greg McKennis said, noting that as a member of the public he initially opposed the Aspen Glen development.
However, “It turned out to be a pretty good development in terms of doing what they said they were going to do,” he said.
McKennis said the condition calling for the buffer zone didn’t meet with much objection from the developers.
“No one ever thought it should be anything but protected,” he said.
From his recollection, though, the issue wasn’t as simple as protecting the single tree where the nesting site had existed. It was about protecting the broader habitat along that stretch of the Roaring Fork River, McKennis offered.
He requested the Planning Commission continue the discussion until Parks and Wildlife could weigh in with any further thoughts. Instead, the commission decided to add as a condition of recommending approval that the elected Board of County Commissioners solicit that information.
Davis Farrar of Western Slope Consulting spoke on behalf of Aspen Glen Golf Co., also saying the reason for the buffer zone no longer exists.
“The tree fell, the nest was destroyed, the eagles moved,” he said.
Consultant Steve Dahmer of Environmental Solutions also said the buffer zone was specific to the nest site.
“The need no longer exists,” he testified. “These eagles have shown a remarkable tolerance for human activity, and that goes from houses to building sites to people walking dogs and a plethora of boats going down river and fishermen.”
A spokesperson for the Aspen Glen Homeowners Association said 98% of the homeowners in Aspen Glen oppose removing the buffer zone.
The matter is expected to go before the county commissioners in early September.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or email@example.com.
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