Hunting the urban backcountry wilderness: a misnomer? Perhaps in most cases it is. However, I recently stumbled across an area that challenges this notion.
Located on the urban-rural fringe of Southwest Denver the 8,200 acre Highlands Ranch “Backcountry Wilderness Area” hosts a herd of 300 elk, 400-class bulls, and provides both limited hunting opportunities and critical over-wintering habitat for elk and deer. The Backcountry Wilderness Area is formerly private land now conserved through a conservation subdivision and easement. It serves as an example of how well-planned development can protect wildlife habitat and provide for wild hunting and angling access in areas that might otherwise be lost to development.
The conservation subdivision concept ensures that environmentally important lands are conserved in exchange for higher-density development elsewhere within a proposed development. The conserved land is then owned and managed by the Homeowners Association (HOA) and is often open for public access. The Highlands Ranch Backcountry is perhaps the first example of a conservation subdivision that provides for (and actually promotes), backcountry hunting opportunities. According to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the overall heard health has improved as hunting on the property was introduced. While hunting access is limited to HOA members, many of the elk that use Highlands Ranch migrate from neighboring public lands.
As development bordering public lands throughout the West will inevitably continue, perhaps this is one technique that can be used to both protect wildlife habitat and foster backcountry hunting and angling opportunities near developed areas?
(photo courtesy of Highlands Ranch HOA)