Wild Colorado briefs: Forest Service urges caution as winter snows begin to melt | SummitDaily.com

Wild Colorado briefs: Forest Service urges caution as winter snows begin to melt

Janice Kurbjun
Summit Daily News

Record accumulations of snow coupled with a forecast of warmer weather in the week ahead has officials worried about the potential for high water and flooding across much of the White River National Forest and its surroundings.

Users of the White River National Forest should exercise caution when traveling forest roads and trails, especially those running along streams and rivers. According to Rich Doak, Recreation Staff Officer for the White River National Forest, “Stream crossings can be particularly dangerous as they can change radically during the day. Warming weather will cause rapidly increasing snow melt and run off as the day progresses. This can cause stream levels to rise quickly and without warning. The public is also cautioned against dispersed camping in low lying areas adjacent to streams.”

Across the White River National Forest, many higher elevation roads, trails and recreation facilities remain closed because of snow conditions. Lower elevation roads that are open are likely to be wet and muddy. Vehicle operators should slow down and drive with caution to avoid accidents and minimize damage to vehicles and road surfaces. The public is urged to respect all seasonal road, trail and area closures.

Some lower elevation campgrounds will be open for the Memorial Day weekend but may be subject to emergency closures should conditions, such as flooding, warrant. Learn about up to date information on open facilities by visiting http://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.

As they’ve done annually since the late 1950s, officials walked Cedar Ridge in the Lower Blue River Valley in mid-May to count deer carcasses to see winter’s effects on large game.

They found the deer survived well, even in a rather cold and snowy winter.

Survival rates were above 90 percent, Division of Wildlife biologist Kirk Oldham said, and about 77 percent of fawns made it through – good indicators for hunting licenses. The deer on Cedar Ridge are the same deer who summer in Summit County, the biologist said, adding that several other areas in Grand County see deer monitoring, including Muddy Creek, Williams Fork and Troublesome drainages.

“It’s important, as managers of big game licenses,” Oldham said. “We want to know the size of the population and the effects of winter on how well they survived.”

In January and February, the division conducts a live deer count. They’ve been doing that for more than 50 years, as well. Volunteers stand 100 yards apart and walk the length of Cedar Ridge. The dead deer count happens in spring.

Both counts help determine “the general trend of the severity of winter, and the impact the winter had on the survival of our deer,” Oldham said.

He added that he expected deer to have a high survival rate, even during a tough winter.

“The survival of the deer is tied to the carrying capacity,” he said. “We manage below the carrying capacity,” which means keeping animals balanced with land’s ability to support them.

“When we manage for below carrying capacity, it makes it easier for the deer to survive winter,” Oldham said. In 1984, more deer on the land meant lower survival rates when snow and temperatures were harsh.

The carcass count complements data collection via radio collar, a more modern way of tracking the animals. Oldham said the counts continue because aside from providing data, they build community and encourage interest in the wildlife management profession.

Mule deer receive significant attention because they’re a primary big game species for hunters, Oldham said.

People visiting the Routt National Forest for Memorial Day weekend will find few camping or hiking opportunities – unless they bring their snowshoes and winter gear.

“This area still has a lot more snow than normal for this time of year,” said Kent Foster, recreation manager at the Forest Service office in Steamboat Springs. “Buffalo Pass, a population recreation area north of Steamboat, is still covered with most of the 16 feet of snow that fell there over the winter. People are still snowmobiling and skiing.”

Temperatures have remained cool all spring, which has delayed snow melt.

People wanting to go camping for the weekend should check with Colorado State Parks or Chambers of Commerce for lower elevation camping opportunities or special events in towns.

Roads on the Routt National Forest are also closed due to snow. With warm weather predicted for the weekend, there is potential for flooding and landslides. The public is asked to respect the road closures and not endanger themselves or cause road damage by driving around gates, barricades or through snowbanks.

Roads and recreation areas will be opened as soon as is safely possible.

Late-season winter storms and cooler temperatures have brought large amounts of snow to the Maroon Bells Scenic Area near Aspen, delaying the opening of many of the recreation facilities within the developed complex.

The Forest Service opened Maroon Creek Road Friday, and visitors should come prepared for winter conditions and deep snow. A partial opening of the day-use area will allow access to one toilet facility and no drinking water. Guests are encouraged to bring their own water. Silver Bar, Silver Bell, and Silver Queen campgrounds all opened Friday and are currently snow free.

The White River National Forest website has recreation, trail information, and current photos of the Maroon Bells available at http://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.

For more information, call Aurora Palmer at (970) 945-3317.

As the Colorado Roadless Rule continues its evolution, comments are still being accepted until July 14.

At contest are areas to be deemed roadless or not based on wildlife habitat, water and visual impacts, and more.

In 2001, the Roadless Area Conservation Rule was issued, prohibiting logging and road construction in national forest roadless areas, with some exceptions for valid existing rights and public safety. The 2001 rule didn’t take effect, and instead, the Forest Service issued a rule that allowed individual states, working with the Forest Service, to outline regulations for roadless areas within their respective borders.

That Bush-administration rule was later invalidated, but Idaho and Colorado have chosen to prepare roadless rules under a different authority. Colorado’s was drafted in 2008 and has undergone nearly yearly revisions. Some claim the current draft allows too much damage to roadless areas.

Comments on the roadless rule can be sent to Colorado Roadless Rule/EIS, P.O. Box 1919, Sacramento, CA 95812 or emailed to COComments@fsroadless.org.

Public meetings are scheduled to help provide information about the rule. For those in the White River National Forest, the meeting is slated for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 16 at the community center on Wulfsohn Road in Glenwood Springs.

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