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Bighorns don’t beware: Avalanche Creek closed

Locations: News Published

Sopris Sun Staff Report

The Forest Service has implemented its annual winter season closure in the Avalanche Creek area located nine miles south of Carbondale in the Crystal River Valley, according to a press release.

Forest Service Road 310 (the Avalanche Creek Road) is closed to vehicles. The area north of Road 310 is closed to human occupancy and the entire area is closed to dogs.

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The closures to human occupancy and dogs are in effect from until May 1. The road remains closed until June 21, under the White River National Forest winter travel restrictions. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing is allowed on the road, but dog walking is prohibited.

For bighorn sheep populations, winter is a time of stress and hardship. This annual closure, in cooperation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, is intended to reduce disturbance and stress on bighorn sheep while on their winter range.

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“Avalanche Creek provides critical winter habitat for bighorn sheep,” said Phil Nyland, a wildlife biologist for the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. “The low elevation, light snow-pack, terrain that facilitates quick escape and presence of winter forage are key elements of bighorn sheep winter habitat. The seasonal closure is designed to provide a refuge for bighorn sheep during this critical period.”

The closures minimize disturbance of bighorn sheep while on critical winter range. “Research shows that even what appear to be small reactions by sheep to people, traffic and dogs cause impacts over a period of months in terms of raised stress levels, increased metabolism and decreased food intake,” said Nyland.

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Said District Ranger Karen Schroyer, “Although you may not see bighorn sheep at Avalanche Creek, the closure is still in effect and there are ample signs to warn visitors.” The area is jointly patrolled by the Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

People who stay on the Avalanche Creek Road may catch a glimpse of the bighorn sheep. Filoha Meadows along Highway 133 near Penny Hot Springs, and in Glenwood Canyon, are also places to view bighorn sheep.

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For more information, call Nyland at 970-404-3156 or John Groves at 970-2920.

Published in The Sopris Sun on December 3, 2015.

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