Habitat Protection

WW is protecting wildlife by working to keep their habitat intact
Cow elk

A cow elk in the Elk Mountains. Photo courtesy of Todd Patrick.

The Wilderness Workshop’s motto is “protecting wild places and wildlife, for their sake – and ours.”

The White River National Forest is renowned for its native wildlife. But the habitat that the elk, bear and other wild creatures depend on for their survival is at risk. It’s being constricted, fragmented and degraded by roads and other facilities associated with a slow but steady increase in human activities. Oil and gas development, mining, logging and recreation (driven by a growing local population and exploding off-road vehicle use) all take their toll.

WW’s Forest Watchdog Program is working to prevent habitat loss and degradation on federal lands in our region. Our staff analyze proposed activities and policy directives for all public lands within our 2.9-million-acre service area. Where they threaten critical wildlife habitat or other ecologically important resources, we intervene to stop them or mitigate their impacts.

Size matters

Size matters – click the image to read more.

Some of these proposals may be relatively small in acreage, leading land managers to believe that their impacts are negligible. Unfortunately, the system isn’t set up to analyze the cumulative impacts of many separate activities on the land. A big part of our job is holding the agencies to their own regulations to analyze these cumulative impacts and prevent what would otherwise be death by a thousand cuts. (See Habitat Fragmentation: Size Matters.)

The main threats to wildlife habitat in our area are energy development, beetles and wildfire, and recreation, and you’ll find information about our work on those issues in the relevant sections.

Logging proposals also sometimes require our intervention, although our relatively slow-growing forests don’t lend themselves to the big commercial timber sales seen in other parts of the country. In the past few years, logging projects on the White River National Forest have been initiated primarily for the purpose of improving wildlife habitat or forest health, with timber production as just a byproduct. The WRNF’s 50,000-acre Aspen-Sopris Habitat Improvement Project is the current vehicle for such treatments in the Roaring Fork Valley; we’re working with the Forest Service to ensure that the work is done in a way to cause minimal impacts.

Hard rock mining accounts for very little activity on public lands in our area nowadays, but can sometimes have implications for wildlife. Since 2011 an operator has been seeking to reopen the White Banks Mine in the Avalanche Creek Valley – a proposal that could have negative consequences for the valley’s bighorn sheep population. We and other groups have pushed hard for the alabaster mine to be subject to seasonal closures, but the Forest Service, after initially agreeing with us, subsequently reversed its decision. We and 11 other parties are now awaiting the outcome of various appeals before deciding whether to proceed to federal court.