Despite the spring-like weather, select public lands closed to protect critical winter wildlife habitat for big game remain off-limits until April 16.
“People should still respect the closure,” said Tyler Fouss, a Bureau of Land Management law enforcement manager. “It’s only a few months a year for benefit of wildlife.”
Every year, the BLM, along with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, cordons off areas that are critical winter habitat for wildlife from Dec. 1 to April 15, including Grandview Ridge, Big Canyon, Animas City Mountain and Twin Buttes, among others.
Bodo State Wildlife Area and Perins Peak State Wildlife Area open on April 16, though Perins Peak east of County Road 208 remains closed until Aug. 1 to protect raptor habitat. Dogs must be on a leash on state wildlife area property.
But also every year, people looking to recreate in these lands disregard the closures.
The BLM has a limited number of patrol officers to enforce closures, but still, every so often officers write tickets. In 2016, the BLM wrote 19 tickets and 13 tickets in 2017. In recent years, that number has been on the decline.
Fouss said the BLM saw an uptick in people going into wildlife closure areas last year at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, a time when state health regulations asked people to limit travel for recreation.
While BLM officers aren’t seeing as high of numbers as last year, there is clear evidence people are going into wildlife closure areas, evidenced by mountain bike and foot tracks along trails.
In the last week, Fouss said there have been quite a few mountain bike tracks in the Grandview and Sale Barn area, though it’s been difficult to catch people in the act.
“There’s definitely signs of people violating the closures and going in,” he said.
Fouss said it is unlikely people don’t know about the closures when they enter the areas, as signs and blockades make it clear the trails are off-limits until April 16.
“Some have claimed they don’t know, but when questioned, they admit to ducking under the fence and going in,” he said.
Fouss said one person last week who illegally entered Animas City Mountain said his excuse was “he was one with nature and doesn’t cause any harm to the wildlife.”
“I had a hard time keeping a straight face with that one,” Fouss said.
Recreation does affect wildlife, however, especially in wintertime.
CPW spokesman Joe Lewandowski said in a statement big game such as elk and deer are essentially running on empty in winter months, and any disturbance brought on by mountain bikers or hikers can cause them to expend calories.
“The animals move to lower elevations to spend winter but have little to eat during the cold months,” he said. “Please, wait just a few more days and give wildlife a break.”
A study released in June 2020 about recreation impacts on wildlife in British Columbia, for instance, found “all species avoided humans on trails, with avoidance strongest for mountain biking and motorized vehicles.”
“Our results imply that environmental factors generally shaped broad-scale patterns of wildlife use, but highlight that recreational activities also have detectable impacts,” the study said.
Fouss said many of the areas now popular for recreation were in fact preserved in the first place for wildlife conservation purposes, like at Animas City Mountain.
“There are still plenty of places around Durango to recreate,” Fouss said.