Letter: Trails needn’t be closed | PostIndependent.com

Letter: Trails needn’t be closed

In his article of Dec. 10, Phil Nyland of the Forest Service is correct in pointing out that winter tends to be the most stressful time of year for wildlife, and that many species concentrate at lower elevations then. The major concern is for large animals such as deer and elk, which are sufficiently plentiful that tens of thousands of them must be killed by hunters every year to prevent overpopulation.

These animals have evolved and survived over hundreds of thousands of years in the presence of predators such as wolves that are no longer a significant factor. It is a stretch of logic to claim that people on foot using public trails in winter represent such a threat to these animals as to justify routine closures.

Wildlife use trails for the same reason as people — to get around with the least consumption of energy. But wildlife use trails mostly at night, and move into surrounding cover to rest during the day. In hiking thousands of miles of trails, the times that I have encountered large wildlife, they either stand off the trail and watch as I pass, or saunter into surrounding cover. The notion that they flee in terror, burning up their reserves of fat, is extremely rare and could more professionally be addressed by selectively closing areas to public use only during exceptionally severe winters.

As a wildlife biologist, Mr. Nyland should be aware that a growing threat to species that are hunted for trophies is that the gene pool is being weakened by the selective killing of the largest and healthiest animals. If we imagine the absolute worst-case scenario where some animals die from being disturbed by trail users, those animals would tend to be the oldest and least fit.

That is the process of natural selection that is being sabotaged by a policy of overprotecting wildlife in winter, largely so that more will be around for hunters to kill the next fall. I don’t consider that to be properly addressing the interests of people who want to share public lands with wildlife without shooting it.

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