The following letter was sent to the Montrose County Commission in response to a season road closure that was supported by the commission to protect wildlife habitat.
Dear Montrose County Commissioners Henderson, White and Ellis:
I am writing on behalf of Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers to thank you for passing Resolution 07-2014, directing a seasonal closure of Green Mt. Rd., C77, for protection of your struggling resident sage grouse population. We are in agreement with each of your “Whereas” positions.
While we are well aware of the economic importance of nonresident ORV recreational tourism to many rural areas of Colorado, winter is hardly the high ORV season and economic impact from this wildlife closure should be nil, producing a win-win situation for the country and its wildlife.
We have spoken with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, who also support your action in this closure. Sage grouse is the key species of concern here, as it rightly should be, given its precarious population situation West-wide. It’s also significant that your resolution also acknowledges the parallel importance of this area as wintering grounds for big game. This is an element whose importance we would like to emphasize.
Certainly, the Gunnison sage grouse is the primary species of concern at the moment, and the area protected by the closure of C77 is the core of their habitat for the Crawford subpopulation. Additionally, BHA members who live locally and know the landscapes in question tell us that this same area south and west of Crawford is perhaps the most important publiclanddeer and elk winter range in that part of the county, in part because GMU 63 also supports animals from GMU 53. If the deer and elk go in any direction from there as a result of human disturbance, particularly north, they get into predominantly private “game damage” land where they become the source of conflicts with agricultural producers. Because ATVs have been shown in multiple studies to move elk farther and faster than any other form of motorized transportation (references are available if you’re interested), the single best thing you could have done to protect wintering elk and deer is exactly what you have done with R07-2014.
Yet, grateful as we are for the exclusion of motorized traffic from this winter wildlife refugium, we are left uneasy that the area remains open to non-motorized users year-round. While mountain biking isn’t a significant activity there for now, it’s a growing sport with users continuously seeking novel opportunities. People walking dogs can also harass winter-stressed wildlife, and discussions related to shed antler hunting in this area and it's impacts to wintering big game have been ongoing for the last 10 years. As western Colorado's human population grows, there will be a growing urgency to place high levels of protection on wildlife and their habitat, be it sage grouse or big game. We would encourage Montrose County to support public land managers in their wildlife and habitat conservation efforts, and to keep in mind the significant contribution that wildlife makes to Montrose, and all West Slope economies. Wildlife protection today equals economic viability tomorrow.
As evidence, please consider LaPlata County, where mountain biking is a far larger local industry even than ORV recreation. For years LaPlata County has installed full seasonal closures—no motors, no bikes, no hikers—in key big game wintering areas with zero political kickback. Consequently, we request that you consider the same wise option.
Finally, we are pleased to see that local livestock producers back the seasonal motorized closure of C77, although livestock grazing in crucial wildlife areas at sensitive seasons such as sage grouse breeding and deer and elk wintering times, specifically winter sheep grazing, is also highly disruptive and a source for concern.
To put this local situation in focus as an issue affecting sage grouse and big game conservation throughout much of the West, I call your attention to this brief article describing how the issue is shaping up in Wyoming, whose situation and landscapes are quite similar to your own: big-bucks-sage.
But coming full circle, the primary intent of this letter is to thank the Montrose County Board of Directors for R07-2014, which reflects not only your awareness of and concern for your county’s rich resource of wildlife, but also reflects your awareness of the needs and concerns of the vast majority of non-motorized users; not only hunters and anglers but all who enjoy the presence of visible wildlife and unspoiled wildlife habitat.
Should you have questions, we invite you to contact Tim Brass, BHA’s Southern Rockies Coordinator, at tim(at)backcountryhunters.org, or .
Vice Chair for Conservation
Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers