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Trail use near Vail, Colorado, has more than doubled since 2009. It’s had a devastating impact on a herd of elk
By Christine Peterson
Biologists used to count over 1,000 head of elk from the air near Vail, Colorado. The majestic brown animals, a symbol of the American west, dotted hundreds of square miles of slopes and valleys.
But when researchers flew the same area in February for an annual elk count, they saw only 53.
“Very few elk, not even many tracks,” their notes read. “Lots of backcountry skiing tracks.”
The surprising culprit isn’t expanding fossil-fuel development, herd mismanagement by state agencies or predators, wildlife managers say. It’s increasing numbers of outdoor recreationists – everything from hikers, mountain bikers and backcountry skiers to Jeep, all-terrain vehicle and motorcycle riders. Researchers are now starting to understand why.