Presentation will explore recreation’s mixed blessing for conservation |

Presentation will explore recreation’s mixed blessing for conservation

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
A cyclist climbs the Airline Trail into Sky Mountain Park in spring 2015. The park is closed by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails from Dec. 1 through May 15 for the benefit of wildlife.
Aspen Times file photo |


The Naturalist Night free speaker series has launched for the winter with presentations in Carbondale on Wednesdays and Aspen on Thursdays.

The series features speakers addressing scientific issues. This week’s presentation is “Beyond Mastodons and Mammoths: The Latest Scientific Understanding form the Snowmass Ice Age Discovery.”

The presentation by Stephanie Lukowski, paleontologist at the Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center, will be held Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Third Street Center in Carbondale and Thursdays at 7 p.m. at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies at Hallam Lake.

The full Naturalist Nights lineup can be found at

In addition, ACES has started its Potbelly Perspectives series at Hallam Lake. The series is adventure oriented. Roaring Fork Valley residents give presentations on unique outdoor travels. This week’s presentation is “Adventuring Above Clouds, Over Water and Through Rain: A Summer in Southeast Alaska” by Suzanne Jackson. The presentation is at 7 p.m. at Hallam Lake.

The full Potbelly Perspective lineup can be found at

The Roaring Fork Valley has no shortage of debates about how recreational pursuits affect wildlife on public lands and open spaces.

A number of public land management agencies are grappling with issues:

• The U.S. Forest Service is working on an overnight use-management plan for the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness because of high use in certain hotspots is affecting the natural setting, the wilderness feel and wildlife habitat.

• Pitkin County Open Space and Trails’ request for an extension of a property tax in the November election was overwhelmingly approved, but the campaign spurred questions about whether the agency was focusing too much on trail construction. The open space program closes most of its properties for the benefit of wildlife from Dec. 1 to May 15.

• The use of lower slopes of The Crown in the midvalley has been an ongoing concern for officers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The federal Bureau of Land Management closes upper slopes to motorized uses during the winter, but snow bikes are allowed on lower slopes off Prince Creek Road.

• On the other end of the spectrum, cross-country skiers have criticized the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority for closing about 2 miles of the Rio Grande Trail in the midvalley for the benefit of wildlife during the winter.

The broader topic is going to be scrutinized this winter as part of the Naturalist Nights free speaker series presented by Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Wilderness Workshop and Roaring Fork Audubon.

Sarah Reed and Sarah Thomas will be the featured speakers Feb. 8 in Carbondale and Feb. 9 in Aspen for a presentation called, “Balancing Outdoor Recreation with Wildlife Conservation in Protected Lands.”

“Recreation can be a little bit of a mixed blessing for conservation,” said Thomas, who holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy and Management, and has an environmental policy and strategy consulting practice in Boulder.

On one hand, she said, the prospect of recreational use of lands has been a “driver” of land conservation efforts. On the other hand, recreation on protected lands is becoming “pervasive,” she said.

Recreation pressures are greater than ever due to new technologies and endurance events such as 24-hour mountain bike rides, she noted.

Most protected lands allow some type of recreation. It’s time to better understand how recreation affects those lands and wildlife, she said.

Reed, a Ph.D., associate conservation scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society and on the affiliate faculty of Colorado State University, will focus on results of global research on the effects of recreation on wildlife — in different ecosystems and seasons.

The research shows there is a clear impact. What isn’t known yet, Reed said, is whether or not seasonal closures are effective in protecting lands for wildlife.

The most important decision is whether or not to open a site to recreation in the first place, she said.

Reed and Thomas, who both grew up in Colorado and enjoy the outdoors, have teamed to give the presentation multiple times.

“We’ve learned from giving talks that this can be a sensitive issue,” Thomas said.

She recalled some of their early discussions on the topic of recreation and conservation came while they were trail running with their dogs off leash. “We don’t come from a holier-than-thou position,” she said.

Similarly, Reed said they advocate for better balance rather than calling for recreation to be banned or wildlife to be ignored.

“It definitely doesn’t need to be either-or, black-and-white answers,” she said.

It is an issue important for Colorado, Reed said, because there is a rapidly growing population that spends an increasing amount of time in open spaces and protected lands. Most people want to preserve the characteristics that helped attract them to Colorado, she said.

Reed and Thomas will give their presentation in Carbondale’s Third Street Center Feb. 8 at 5:30 p.m. and at Hallam Lake in Aspen on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m.

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