PI Editorial: Let wildlife experts have say, but there may be value in keeping eagle buffer zone protections
Editor’s note: Managing Editor and Senior Reporter John Stroud did not participate in discussions for this editorial since he is the primary reporter on the story.
What do you do with a protective buffer zone once the subject of that buffer zone — in this case, an eagles nest — is gone?
That’s the question facing the Garfield County commissioners now as they prepare to determine what should be done about a longstanding protective zone along the Roaring Fork River within Aspen Glen.
The buffer zone was originally negotiated as a condition of approval when the Aspen Glen PUD was given final approval in 1993, at the recommendation of state and federal wildlife officials due to the presence of a historic bald eagle nest site in a single tree along the Roaring Fork River.
Eagles kept using the nest over the years as Aspen Glen was built out and successfully raised eaglets there every few years. In the spring season when nesting eagles were present, golf play was even prohibited on the hole closest to the nest until the eaglets were fully fledged.
According to recent documentation, the eagles abandoned the nest in 2016 soon after a wildlife camera was placed in the tree. Some of the opponents of removing the buffer zone claim the eagles were illegally hazed during mating season, which is why they left. The golf course owners say it’s a moot point because the top half of the tree that held the nest fell over in a windstorm two years later.
Now faced with an empty nest site, the commissioners will consider whether to grant removal of the buffer zone. If it is removed, three undeveloped parcels would be sold off and then built out, per the request of Aspen Glen Golf Co.
The request is supported by both Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Garfield County Planning Commission — with the caveat that CPW provide more reasoning in their decision than the eagles nest merely being gone from the buffer zone.
Asking for more information from Colorado’s wildlife professionals is smart — we’re confident they’ll do what’s been asked of them — but we’d also encourage both those who wish to keep the buffer zone in place and the developers to consider a possible third option: selling the property to a trust so it’s protected for generations to come.
Even though the nest is no more — at least for now — the buffer zone is still home to much more than one eagle. In fact, CPW noted that it was an important area for wildlife, fowl life and riparian life.
The Aspen Valley Land Trust and Coffman Ranch coming together to establish that as a working ranch that is also trust land is one such example of partnerships bearing fruit for wildlife and open space in the Roaring Fork Valley. The eagle buffer zone is a considerably lighter lift, and we’d be interested to see what “outside the box” options locals working together might come up with.
Barring that, we’d encourage county commissioners to do what they should have done in the case of Ascendigo earlier this summer: Follow the advice of the professionals and volunteer boards. If CPW and County Planning maintain their recommendation of lifting the buffer zone protection, then that’s likely the most appropriate course of action.
The Post Independent editorial board members are Publisher Bryce Jacobson, Editor Peter Baumann and community representatives Amy Connerton and Karl Oelke, with Managing Editor and Senior Reporter John Stroud not involved in this discussion.
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