bighorn sheep

A few mountain goats graze on Independence Pass, now closed, in July. But the big-game presence doesn’t cease with the colder temperatures; the White River National Forest announced winter closures in Avalanche Creek south of Carbondale specifically to give wildlife a break. 

The White River National Forest has switched to winter travel rules that restrict all vehicles with wheels, including bicycles, to plowed routes to protect snow conditions and road quality.

Travelers are urged to respect signs and travel restrictions to protect groomed surfaces used by snowmobilers and cross-country skiers.

“These winter regulations are an important part of keeping the White River National Forest a premiere location for winter recreation by helping maintain conditions for activities like snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing,” Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said in a statement.

Winter Motor Vehicle Use Maps identify routes and areas designated for “over the snow” motor vehicle travel for snowmobiles. The maps are free and available at all White River National Forest offices or online athttp://www.fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.

The White River National Forest also announced Monday that annual winter closures are in place in Avalanche Creek, 9 miles south of Carbondale in the Crystal River Valley. Avalanche Creek Road is closed to vehicles, human entry is prohibited north of the road and the entire area is closed to dogs. The closure was implemented in 1996 to protect wintering wildlife, including bighorn sheep, elk and mule deer. The restrictions on humans and dogs are in place until May 1. Vehicles are prohibited until May 21.

“Since we first implemented the closures in 1996, both the human population in the region and winter recreation in Avalanche Creek has grown, while big game populations have declined,” said Aspen-Sopris Ranger District wildlife biologist Phil Nyland. “There are a number of factors contributing to the decline of the region’s big game herds, and disturbance in critical winter range is probably a significant reason.”

As more people use the area, compliance with the closures has decreased, particularly involving dogs.

“We are seeing big game in this area less frequently than would be expected given its high-quality winter habitat,” Nyland said. “It’s clear to me that the presence of dogs in the closed area contributes to the lower numbers of big game, as does the amount of people.”