Kelly Northcutt: Pinning elk population decline on trails in narrow minded | SteamboatToday.com

Kelly Northcutt: Pinning elk population decline on trails in narrow minded

I am writing in response to the letter to the editor regarding "Retracting the Mad Rabbit Trails project.” It is important to look at this issue from a much bigger mindset, rather than blaming trails.

As Larry Desjardin’s referenced article mentioned, “We all know what happens when you build your house somewhere. You want to recreate out your back door.”Perhaps the approved 100-home Sunlight development or the 140-home Overlook Park subdivision, both of which are in critical elk winter range, should have been of more concern than trails?

The 80,000 people moving to Colorado each year will certainly have an effect on our forests.

Trying to pin the decline of elk population on trails is narrow minded. Certainly trails have impacts, but there are other issues having significantly greater and longer lasting impacts on elk herds. These are the top 10 threats to wildlife and biodiversity in Colorado as described in Colorado Parks and Wildlife State Wildlife Action Plan.

1. Residential and commercial development

2. Incompatible agriculture

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3. Energy production and mining

4. Transportation and service corridors

5. Biological resource use

6. Human intrusions and disturbance

7. Natural systems modifications

8. Invasives, problematic native species and pathogens

9. Pollution

10. Climate change and severe weather

Trails do not come in until number six. To me, the Mad Rabbit NEPA process, which is through the Forest Service, not the city of Steamboat Springs, is not something to be cancelled. The NEPA process is specifically designed to be an environmental assessment of an area of proposed disturbance.

After the first USFS comment period, there has already been a significant reduction of the area to even be analyzed for trails. This means we are now looking primarily at a very small area of concentrated trails near the old Ferndale picnic area, which is surrounded by U.S. Highway 40 on three sides and has an existing road through it with regular human use.

Regardless, the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance has evolved into a comprehensive, inclusive coalition of all forest users. Everyone in that room wants to recreate “out their back door” in some fashion — trails, no trails, motorized, non-motorized, etc. The USFS and city have collaborated to hire an outside, unbiased facilitator to work through the remainder of the Mad Rabbit NEPA process with this group.

I encourage the community to attend these public meetings in order to understand the big picture and participate in this process. Also please check out the WHILD fund, hosted through the Yampa Valley Community Foundation. It is a great way to address all wildlife issues.

Kelly Northcutt

Routt County Riders executive director

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