Trail use near Vail, Colorado, has more than doubled since 2009. Its had a devastating impact on a herd of elk
Biologists used to count over 1,000 head of elk from the air near Vail, Colorado. The majestic brown animals, a symbol of the American west, dotted hundreds of square miles of slopes and valleys.
But when researchers flew the same area in February for an annual elk count, they saw only 53.
Very few elk, not even many tracks, their notes read. Lots of backcountry skiing tracks.
The surprising culprit isnt expanding fossil-fuel development, herd mismanagement by state agenciesor predators, wildlife managers say. Its increasing numbers of outdoor recreationists everything from hikers, mountain bikers and backcountry skiers to Jeep, all-terrain vehicle and motorcycle riders. Researchers are now starting to understand why.
US national parks and wilderness areas have boomed in popularity in the last decade, with places like Yosemite national park hitting as many as 5 million visits a year. The influx is due to a mixture of visitation campaigns, particularly during traditional off seasons, and an explosion of social media exposure that has made hidden gems into national and even international viral sensations.
The impact on wildlife is only recently apparent, and the Vail elk herd may be one of the more egregious examples.
Outdoor recreation has long been popular in Colorado, but trail use near Vail has more than doubled since 2009. Some trails host as many as 170,000 people in a year.
Recreation continues nearly 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, said Bill Andree, who retired as Colorado Parks and Wildlifes Vail district wildlife manager in 2018. Night trail use in some areas has also gone up 30% in the past decade. People are traveling even deeper into woods and higher up peaks in part because of improved technology, and in part to escape crowds.
The elk in unit 45, as its called, live between 7,000 and 11,000 feet on the pine, spruce and aspen-covered hillsides and peaks of the Colorado Rockies, about 100 miles from Denver. Their numbers have been dropping precipitously since the early 2010s.
Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/25/hiking-elk-driven-to-brink-colorado-vail