Winter recreation restricted to help wildlife
The winter months offer plenty of activities on public lands other than skiing and snowboarding, but it’s also a sensitive time of year for the area’s wildlife.
U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife all take steps to minimize recreationalists’ impact on wildlife in the winter, including restricting large swaths of land to particular uses.
While the White River National Forest’s terrain is always open to travelers on foot and on horseback, motorized use and mountain biking is restricted from Nov. 23 to May 20.
White River National Forest has about 695,000 acres open for motorized vehicles such as snowmobiles in the winter, and another 518,000 acres they can roam if they stick to designated routes.
Some 1,018,000 acres of the forest are closed to motorized use, but about 752,000 acres of that is designated wilderness, said Kay Hopkins, U.S. Forest Service outdoor recreation planner.
During that period, mountain biking isn’t permitted anywhere in the forest. But Hopkins said the Forest Service is working with International Mountain Bicycling Association to open up some plowed trails to fat-tire bikes in the winter.
Likewise, many locations of the Bureau of Land Management territory in Garfield County and the Roaring Fork Valley close to motorized and mechanized use from December to mid-April to protect wildlife. And Colorado Parks and Wildlife restricts access to its designated state wildlife areas to keep human traffic to a minimum.
Wildlife tends to move down from higher elevations in the winter in search of food, though it’s still scarce at the lower elevations, said Mike Porras, Colorado Parks and Wildlife public information officer.
CPW’s state wildlife areas are often closed during a portion of the season to keep recreationalists from interfering with the wildlife during this stressful time of year.
Many of the animals fatten up during the summer and rely on those fat stores during the winter, Porras said.
Pressure on those animals causes them burn the calories off more quickly, using up their fat stores before they’ll have easier access to food.
Increased stress on the animals can cause higher mortality rates in not only the animal, but in its unborn offspring, Porras said. Many of the animals tend to give birth later in the winter.
During the wintertime, it’s critical that people respect the seasonal closures, Porras said.
It’s also become popular to hunt for antlers recently shed by deer, elk and moose, Porras said.
At this time when the animals are living almost exclusively off fat stores, the males shed their heavy antlers to save energy.
Freshly shed antlers are quite valuable, but CPW has recently started banning shed hunting in late winter because it puts more pressure on the animals, he said.
Porras said some people have even chased the animals in the hopes that they’ll shed their antlers in the process.
Recreationalists also like to take their dogs off leash in these areas, thinking that their dog wouldn’t hurt a fly, Porras said. But a dog still has primal instincts, and thought it might not kill an animals, it will still likely injure it severely, he said.
Knowing and respecting the restrictions on public lands is important to maintain these animals’ survival, Hopkins said.
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