David Lien: The need for more wilderness
A recent Summit Daily News contributor (Re: “Does Hidden Gems really safe wildlife?”) made a simple but spurious argument regarding the impact of motorized vehicles on big game, implying that OHVs don’t negatively impact wildlife because he observes “bighorn sheep along I-70 and the Georgetown area … elk and bighorn sheep in Estes Park … mountain goats on Mt. Evans Road … bison walking down the road in Yellowstone.”
But the vast majority of wild animals do not live in parks and along roadsides, and they fear/flee from motorized vehicles. Part of keeping good, healthy big game herds (in particular, elk) on national forests and other public lands is to make sure they have ample secure habitat – big wild country with large blocks of land without motorized disturbance.
In fact, closing or decommissioning roads has been found to increase elk survival and the number of bulls, extend the age structure, increase hunter success, and allow elk to remain in preferred habitat longer. Studies have also recommended closing entire areas to motorized use – as opposed to individual roads – to best promote healthy elk populations.
On heavily roaded landscapes, elk find themselves lethally sandwiched between aggressive harassment by motorized invaders and decreased hiding cover. Backcountry Hunter and Angler (BHA) member Bill Sustrich says, “During the past decade, I have personally had six out of seven elk hunts ruined by the careless intrusions of ATV operators. This epidemic has forced me to abandon one prime hunting area after another, only to encounter the same situation elsewhere.”
Currently, a mere 3 percent of Colorado is designated as wilderness, the gold standard for wildlife habitat and hunting grounds, and Bill Sustrich hit the nail on the head when he said: “The fact is, nothing yet created by mankind can offer the degree of wildlife refuge as that provided by wilderness designation.”
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