Guest opinion: Be responsible in South Canyon during elk calving season
Our elk population is constantly being threatened by fragmentation. New biking trails are completed, and more trails are planned to be built in crucial remote and wild areas.
The concept of biking trails connecting communities and neighborhoods has significant merit. In contrast, the idea of biking trails into remote and wild areas needs to be heavily scrutinized. Our community and our leaders must take a stand and learn to say “no thanks” to outdoor recreation that is not sustainable and jeopardizes wildlife habitat.
As our population grows and our recreation needs increase these decisions are even more important to the future success or failure of our wildlife.
Elk calving is a delicate process that our community should value and protect. However, actions that we are taking threaten the species. The elk calving process is complicated and fragile. As outdoor recreational users, we all must ask if what we are doing supports or detracts from critical elk habitat.
During April, the female elk (cows) are highly agitated as they begin the process of giving birth.
During the month of May, the cows realize that birth is inevitable, and they leave the herd. The cows separate individually and attempt to find an isolated location within their known migration area. They are under significant stress, and their increased needs for solitude and nourishment are essential to complete a successful birthing process.
From May and into the first part of June, the cows give birth in solitude. The calves are basically helpless for the first few weeks as the cow remains in seclusion. These next few weeks or month are critical as the mother attempts to nourish and protect the calf from many dangers.
In early June, the cow and calf must locate and rejoin the herd for protection. The entire herd will eventually move to higher elevations for the summer.
For many reasons, the success of this delicate calving process has decreased substantially in Garfield and other surrounding counties. One cause of the decline is due to mechanized recreation and human encroachment into crucial elk calving areas. The unpredictable behavior of these mechanical disturbances can cause the cow to abandon her calf in favor of her own survival. Once the mother is chased out of an area, the calf has essentially no chance of survival.
Our town still has many lower level elevations that are ideal for elk calving that support the birthing process.
The South Canyon Coalition believes that one of these sensitive areas inside the canyon is located at what is also known as Coal Camp. We are asking the public and the mountain biking community to honor the delicate process and stay out of this area up until June 9 of each calving season.
The elk species and other wildlife is important to the values and lifestyle of our mountain community. When we recreate in the future all of us must ask ourselves if we are contributing to the success or failure of the wildlife. We will all enjoy our experiences more if we continue to educate ourselves and our visitors on using ethical and sustainable recreation habits.
The South Canyon Coalition is confident that outdoor recreation can be sustainable. Future planning and recreational uses must have proper knowledge and ultimate respect for our wildlife and our remote and wild areas.
This guest opinion was written by Craig Amichaux on behalf of the South Canyon Coalition.
(Editor’s note: The upper South Canyon trails at Coal Camp are currently under an extended seasonal closure until April 30 due to melting snow and muddy trail conditions. There is not an official wildlife closure in the area, however; just a suggestion from the South Canyon Coalition as stated in this opinion piece.)
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