Wildlife over economics

I am a mountain biker, hiker, cross-country skier, dog owner – these are several reasons my husband and I chose to move to Durango seven years ago.

The opportunities for outdoor recreation are abundant here, and we take advantage of that every day we can, regardless of the season. We are also strong advocates of public lands and protecting them from excess use, new trail systems built without regard to the natural habitat, as well as over-grazing of high-altitude meadows.

We are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful area, but must we continue to push the boundary of destruction vs. protection on these fragile areas? I thoroughly understand the economics of opening new trail systems. I am speaking specifically of the proposed Baker’s Park trail system that has been approved in the Silverton area. More trails, more bikes, more visitors, more money for the local businesses. Who can argue with that equation? The location of this proposed trail system is going to seriously impact wildlife in the surrounding area, but it seems like that was not taken into full consideration when this proposal was approved.

The project area is within elk winter range and summer range. It is also within moose summer range and adjacent to a moose concentration area. It is also mapped as a mule deer summer range. The project area is also a suitable Canada lynx habitat with established lynx populations.

Three universal problems accompany all new mountain bike/mixed-use trail developments: 1) the illegal expansion of the trail system due to social trail development; 2) the failure of seasonal closures to be clearly defined and consistently enforced; and 3) problems with dogs off-leash. The Baker’s Park construction application does not adequately address these basic concerns.

In referencing an article in The Durango Telegraph from Sept. 29, 2022, “Slippery Slope,” there is another mountain bike trail system proposed in Pagosa Springs in the Jackson Mountain area. This is also a sensitive area for wildlife, but as I understand the situation, mountain bikers have been using the area for years creating a “rogue” trail system that will likely be formalized with a lot of money from outside groups.

The problem is, with all the development in Colorado, there are fewer and fewer places for wildlife to go, especially when it comes to migration routes and breeding grounds. I ask that, as users, we take our responsibility to protect these areas by following the rules, like staying on existing trails and keeping your dogs on leash.

Also, our public land planners need to stop prioritizing economics over the health of our wild places. These are fragile ecosystems, and our presence threatens their existence, and with that, our existence on the planet as well.

– Louise van Vonno, Durango