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February 26, 2013
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Study: Breckenridge gondola impacts on birds limited

Birds nesting in the Cucumber Gulch wetlands area do tend to avoid the BreckConnect Gondola when it is moving, but it does not seem to be driving them out of the area, a recent town-commissioned study has concluded.

The study, the second in three years on the impact of gondola operations on local avian species, was funded in part by Breckenridge Ski Resort.

Ski area executives prompted the second study when they asked the Breckenridge Town Council to consider again extending summer gondola operations through the protected open space area, recognized as one of national importance.

"Based on the available information, we don't believe it is necessary to revise our request in regard to gondola summer operations," Breckenridge Ski Resort spokeswoman Kristen Petitt Stewart stated in an email to the Daily.

Resort representatives are looking to begin running the gondola between downtown Breck and the base of Peak 8 in mid-June this year rather than early July.

A 2010 study evaluated the impact of summer gondola operations on bird species in the Cucumber Gulch area. In 2012 the study was repeated to determine the effects on local avian species of running the gondola two weeks earlier in the year.

"The question at hand is, does starting the gondola earlier in the season - in June versus July - impact the avian species in the gulch more so because that's their nesting time and their migration time," Breckenridge open space and trails planner Scott Reid said. "I don't think the results were enough to say two weeks earlier in the gondola operations is going to make a huge difference to these species."

Researchers did find, however, that one species of bird, the violet-green swallow, was attempting to nest in cavities on the underside of the gondola cabins, which then later began to move.

The situation poses a problem as migratory birds are protected under international treaty, Breckenridge staffers said.

But ski area representatives deny the problem exists.

"We have looked at this very closely, and have not been able to find any evidence that nesting activity is occurring," Petitt Stewart stated in an email. "We inspected the cabins very carefully during the summer and clean them regularly as part of our ongoing maintenance program and have never found any evidence of nesting."

Breckenridge officials and resort representatives are expected to discuss the issue at tonight's work session.

The study also found that the late-arriving Cordilleran flycatchers seemed to choose nesting sites away from the gondola corridor. In addition, it showed that the number of Wilson's warblers in the corridor dropped significantly when the gondola began moving, a finding that was consistent with the 2010 study but did not seem to indicate that the birds vacated Cucumber Gulch wetlands area altogether.

Researchers encouraged officials to limit gondola operations in the morning and evening when many species are feeding and nesting.

Cucumber Gulch has been identified as a crucial aquatic resource and wildlife habitat. Breckenridge officials purchased much of the gulch with open space funds to protect it from development.

The BreckConnect Gondola began operations in 2006, and started to run in the summer in 2010. Last summer, the gondola geared up in mid-June and the second study was commissioned to determine the impacts of the earlier start date.

The cost of the $14,000 study was split evenly between the town and ski resort.


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The Summit Daily Updated Feb 26, 2013 12:17AM Published Feb 26, 2013 12:16AM Copyright 2013 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.