Public Presentations in Carbondale and Redstone set for July 10-11

 

A biologist hired by public lands advocacy group Wilderness Workshop to analyze wildlife-habitat impacts of a proposed trail from Carbondale to Redstone will present his findings early next month.

A press release from Wilderness Workshop announcing that it had brought on Boulder-based biologist Rick Thompson stated that the third-party review was not antagonistic toward the Pitkin County project.

The county’s open space department has long wanted to build a multi-use trail up the Crystal River Valley as part of a link between Carbondale and Crested Butte, which Gov. John Hickenlooper has identified as one of the top trails priorities in the state.

The trail was initially proposed over a decade ago. As the Crystal Valley contains critical wildlife habitat, its potential impacts have been a point of controversy. The county began moving forward with feasibility studies of different alignments earlier this year.

Because a trail alignment has not yet been determined, Thompson’s report will evaluate multiple potential alignments in terms of habitat impacts. The expected study will not only describe which alignments would have the least impact to wildlife but also propose strategies to minimize, avoid or mitigate those impacts, according to the Wilderness Workshop press release.

The report draws on baseline ecological data, interviews with local experts and relevant past studies and reports. The report will pay particular attention to critical wildlife habitat such as calving grounds, winter range, habitat for threatened, endangered or locally significant species and large areas of currently un-fragmented intact habitat. Thompson is also providing a general summary of recreational impacts to wildlife.

“In general, we support the idea of a trail up the Crystal Valley to reduce car traffic and provide recreational opportunities,” Wilderness Workshop’s Conservation Director Will Roush said. “However, central to our mission is ensuring that any new development on public lands, including trails, avoids or minimizes harm to ecosystems and wildlife. With that in mind we committed to using the best available science to inform our position and advocacy on this issue.”

Thompson’s report will add to several other studies being conducted by Pitkin County this year and is intended to be additive to the overall analysis of the trail, according to Wilderness Workshop. While important, wildlife impacts are only one of many factors the county, Forest Service and public will consider. Expense, engineering, safety, private property and user experience are all important issues but only impacts to wildlife are central to Wilderness Workshop’s mission and within the Carbondale-based organization’s area of expertise.

“Our report is not meant to supersede or refute any analysis by Pitkin County or the Forest Service,” Roush said. “Rather, we wanted to provide an outside review of the ecological impacts of a major infrastructure project proposed for an area with important habitat values.”

Thompson’s study is due out in early July when he gives two public presentations on his findings. The first will take place on July 10 at the Redstone Church followed by another session on July 11 at the Third Street Center in Carbondale; both are at 5:30 p.m.

Thompson owns Western Ecosystems Inc., and has conducted over 400 ecological studies in Colorado starting in 1982, including several in the Roaring Fork Valley. He has authored numerous peer-reviewed studies. Locally, he has worked for the U.S. Forest Service, the city of Aspen and Pitkin County, and in close coordination with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.