Signs for Life: Wildlife Depend On Us to Read & Follow Trail Rules
Major steps were taken this year to protect wildlife in the Backcountry Wilderness Area. But, not everyone thinks the rules apply to them.
You may know that the Wildcat Mountain Trail system closes for wintering wildlife from January 1st until April 1st. If not, click here for ALL of the details. The winter closure has been in place since 2006 when the trails opened. The area is a historic wintering area for elk most likely because the Wildcat Area has the only natural, running water source in the entire Backcountry Wilderness Area. The cliffs of Wildcat are also home to our Golden Eagles who begin nesting in these winter months.
Over the last five years, we noticed that elk were not utilizing the area during the winter closure as much as they had in the past. The answer to "why?" was not immediately obvious. Was it an increase in traffic on Monarch, dogs on the Douglas County Trail, more people on the DC Trail, habitat reasons? All might be impactful to deter elk from wintering in the area.
But, often the simplest answer is the right one, so we started there. Over the last few years, we also saw an uptick in trail users breaking the rules of the closure, trespassing into the closed area. When one single person breaks that rule, and the elk are in the area, the elk will vacate the area, often crossing through traffic on Monarch…because of one person not following the rules. These are wild elk and their tolerance for people is low. They flee when their space is violated.
This year, we added signs that explain the winter closure in an attempt to educate would-be violators. We also added motion-activated cameras in tamper-proof cases as an additional deterrent. These cameras are placed in several places around the perimeter of the property, and within the property to capture images of those violating the winter closure rules.
The bad news is we still have those violating the rules.
Climbing over the locked gates to selfishly get their workout or hike in.
We are monitoring these images and will share them with law enforcement to enforce trespassing charges.
If you see this happening, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The good news is that our efforts are making a positive impact.
After an initial surge in violators in early to mid-January, the violations have almost stopped. And not coincidentally, we noticed the elk herd out there just after January 20th and they have been out there consistently since then. That length of stay has not happened in many years. We believe the signs and cameras are making a difference and allowing the elk to winter in an area where they have historically done so. Below is a video from this week of the elk herd at Wildcat Mountain.
THANK YOU to those who are cooperating. We need everyone to follow your lead so our mission of wildlife habitat conservation is a success. As development continues to encroach into what was previously wildlife habitat, conservation areas like the Backcountry Wilderness Area—and the rules that protect them—will only grow in their importance. The elk herd feeling comfortable enough to rest at Wildcat Mountain during the closure is great progress. And with your help, this habitat can continue to be a safe haven for wintering wildlife every year.