For years, the Colorado Bark Beetle Cooperative brought together folks who have historically sued one another.
Environmental activists, the timber industry, recreation-based businesses, utility providers, government representatives and nonprofits in 10 Western Slope counties met to discuss where they agreed and how they could collectively address the impacts of the pine beetle epidemic.
Hearing tree huggers say the same things as tree cutters impressed legislators in Washington, D.C., and the group succeeded in bringing home federal dollars for projects big and small that would chop beetle-kill trees.
Once the beetle crisis subsided, however, the group’s members briefly considered disbanding before deciding the relationships they formed have too much potential for good.
But where do they go from here?
The cooperative met on Friday, Oct. 24, at The Village at Breckenridge to discuss how to keep protecting human lives, property and infrastructure in the face of ongoing forest disturbances, including insects, fire and drought.
“Do we have an obligation to influence future forests?” said Sloan Shoemaker, the group’s chairman.
Beetle-kill trees wouldn’t be a problem if humans didn’t live and play in the region’s 4.5 million acres of forests, he said, where there are pockets in which 30 to 80 percent of trees have died.
White River National Forest silviculturalist and timber program manager Jan Burke summed up the dominant sentiment of the group when she said, “I think we have a responsibility, to a certain extent, to build our nests appropriately and to tend them.”
“We don’t want to be the generation that sat around and did nothing,” said Sloan, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop.
On Friday, the nonprofit collaborative, which has annual budget of about $5,000, focused on how its members can better collaborate to pinpoint which forest risks they want to address.
The group discussed what has worked in some communities — with Summit County held up as a model of success — how those efforts might be replicated elsewhere and how to better involve the timber industry.
COMMUNITY VALUES AND HAZARDS
A bathtub is a hazard, but it doesn’t become a risk until you step in it.
Tony Cheng, an associate professor of forest policy at Colorado State University and director of the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, explained that forest hazards work the same way.
Dead trees don’t become risks until people walk under one that could fall on them or unless people live next to where they could burn.
Because the chances of bad things like wildfire happening due to the beetle epidemic and other forest disturbances “are really really really really low,” Cheng said, community leaders must make decisions based on location and time frame.
He suggested the collaborative remember the assets it wants to protect — human lives, property, water supplies, power lines, roads, trails, ski resorts, wildlife habitat, beautiful landscapes — to prioritize addressing the risk of falling trees and wildfire damage.
Josh Ruschhaupt, director of the Sierra Club’s Rocky Mountain Chapter, asked if the group was also considering the ecological benefits of those natural events.
He seemed worried the hazard label grants the authority to cut trees where no threat to human communities exists.
Cheng responded that efforts so far have been limited to places where the cooperative agrees tree cutting is beneficial, like around campsites and ski areas. Beyond that, the group hasn’t reached consensus on what is feasible or even necessary.
“Those are things that we’re still kinda kicking around and grappling with,” he said.
For that reason, Cheng suggested the group map out potential projects relative to identified assets.
Later in the meeting, forest hydrologist and the collaborative’s vice chairman Brad Piehl returned to the danger of classifying natural forest events as hazards.
“It’s kind of fear mongering really,” he said. “Our forests have evolved with disturbances, and we need to get used to them because we have these events relatively frequently, especially in Colorado.”
WHO’S AT THE TABLE
People will always disagree about which hazards are most important and how best to lessen the risk, Burke told the group.
“There’s a cadre that wants to let anything go as long as it’s natural,” she said, adding that others say, “If it’s dead it’s no good, and we have to get it out of there.”
She’s been working on beetle issues since the early ’90s and is of the opinion that forest managers should do something now so communities aren’t still talking about beetle-related problems in another 20 years.
The Forest Service and partners responded to the most recent epidemic by triaging important sites. She said they cut trees along 3,700 miles of roads in three national forests as well as around 420 recreation areas. When federal funding dried up a few years ago, partnerships with electricity and water providers and CDOT helped those efforts.
Part of the mitigation included planting 100,000 seedlings every year for the last six years, she said, in hopes of providing more species diversity so forests dominated by lodgepole pine aren’t decimated by beetles 200 years from now.
While the tree planting earns wide public support, the tree cutting isn’t always appreciated by some locals who feel left out of the decision-making process.
For decades, government agencies used the “declare and defend” model, Cheng said. Only in recent years have they valued including all stakeholders and achieving public buy-in before decisions are finalized.
“As an agency we are more and more committed to the concept of collaboration,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, White River National Forest supervisor.
This year Congress gave some national forests, including the White River, the authority to bypass comprehensive environmental analyses for tree-cutting and management projects up to 3,000 acres in size as long the Forest Service collaborates with a broad group of stakeholders beforehand.
“We get ourselves in trouble when we ignore the social aspect of managing lands,” said Mike Lester, director of the Colorado State Forest Service.
Lester talked about educating the public on the importance of Colorado’s trees as a vital part of the ecosystem that supplies water to people in 19 states and supports a state economy based on its multi-billion-dollar tourism industry
Forests answer an amazing amount of society’s problems, like cleaning water and air polluted by humans, for example, he said. “There’s nothing that does that as well as our forests do.”
Few legislators are associated more with efforts to combat the bark beetle epidemic than Dan Gibbs.
As a state representative Gibbs brought the issue to the Capitol figuratively and literally, in the form of a beetle-infested log.
Now as a Summit County commissioner, he explained to the collaborative how the county’s efforts exemplify the group’s goals and accomplishments.
Though the county struggles to engage property owners because most residences are second homes, Summit voters passed a tax increase a few years ago to support wildfire mitigation.
Gibbs spoke about the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, a guiding document updated annually by the county’s wildfire council, as well as changes to town and county building codes that require homes to use fire-resistant materials.
The county has encouraged subdivisions to form HOAs, which can require homeowners to create defensible space, and now the county has 10 Firewise Communities, more than any other county in the state.
Summit County extension agent Dan Schroder highlighted the county’s new chipping service, which was piloted this summer with higher than expected homeowner participation.
Collected slash was turned into nearly 800 tons of chips and sent to the Gypsum biomass plant to be burned to create electricity.
The collaborative’s members praised Summit’s efforts and talked about how other communities could copy the county, though some said that would be difficult in less affluent towns and counties.
Gibbs said all the work done in Summit to reduce wildfire risk still hasn’t solved problems for people charged high property insurance rates or unable to obtain home insurance for living too close to the forest.
THE ROLE OF INDUSTRY
When the housing market crashed, the Forest Service saw a drop-off in demand for the timber the agency has always sold, coupled with an increase in supply because agencies wanted to remove beetle-kill.
“We had a basket of wood and nowhere to take it,” said Mike Eckoff, with the Colorado State Forest Service. “Fast-forward five years, and everyone wants our wood for different reasons.”
That has allowed the Forest Service to decrease the amount of money it pays loggers to remove wood, essentially a subsidy for the timber industry.
Still the cost of buying the wood is too high for Colorado’s mills to operate with double shifts, which Rob Davis, owner and president of Forest Energy Corp., said is necessary for the mills to turn a profit.
A Bureau of Land Management representative said his agency is open to talking more with industry about how to make business more feasible.
“We’re all better off if we can figure out ways for people to make a buck out there,” said Greg Shoop, BLM associate state director.
The Forest Service wants to see the industry become strong enough to pay the agency for timber from public lands, instead of the other way around, Lester said. Plus the agency needs the industry’s help to manage lands through logging.
“Without a healthy forest industry there’s not enough money in the federal budget to do that,” he said.
Davis said he would like industry to be more involved once the Forest Service and other partners have decided where to cut.
“At times people look at industry as just a footnote to managing forests and forest restoration,” he said. “Our voice should be heard and that input is valuable.”
He said the businesses could help prioritize which projects make the most economical sense to log first.
A day after both Copper Mountain and Keystone resorts announced they were delaying their Oct. 31 opening, officials at Loveland Ski Area released a statement Wednesday saying they will begin winter operations Saturday, Nov. 1. The announcement makes Loveland the second North American ski area to open for the season behind Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, which opened Friday, Oct. 17.
“We had to wait out a few unseasonably warm weeks, but everyone’s patience will be rewarded on Saturday,” Loveland director of business operations Rob Goodell said in the release. “We are still putting the finishing touches on the base area, but our snowmaking team has done a tremendous job on the upper portion of the mountain, and we are proud to offer our guests the exceptional early-season conditions they have come to expect at Loveland.”
Chair 1 will begin operations at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and run until close at 4 p.m. Skiers and snowboarders will have access to one roughly 1,000-vertical-foot top-to-bottom run via a combination of the Catwalk, Mombo and Home Run trails.
Ski area officials anticipate an 18-inch base for opening day.
A spokesman said Loveland had initially hoped to start the season closer to A-Basin’s Oct. 17 opening, but warm weather delayed snowmaking operations. Last year Loveland was able to open on Oct. 17.
Once open, the ski area will continue operations seven days a week through its closing day in May.
Lift hours will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and designated holidays.
Early-season day passes are $51 for adults and $25 for children ages 6-14.
For the people who live near an osprey nest in Silverthorne, the faithful return of the birds every spring for more than 30 years is a reassurance that everything will be all right.
About 15 years ago, some locals loved seeing the fish-eating birds of prey so much that when the utility pole home to their nest was removed, they had a lookalike pole installed and moved the nest on top.
Bill Linfield, a Silverthorne resident who has seen the nest in the same spot since he moved to Summit County in the 1970s, said the group secured the nest to a wooden platform, and over the years the ospreys added to the nest until it was 4 or 5 feet high.
He said the Eagles Nest Property Homeowners Association installed benches a few hundred yards away so people could sit and watch the birds, which mate for life, and their babies that learn to fly every summer.
On Sunday, Oct. 12, a snowstorm threatened that bond between the humans and the birds when gusty winds rattled the nest and blew down most of its twigs.
The folks living nearby worried the ospreys wouldn’t return to the nest in the spring and contacted Summit County’s Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife managers.
Nest blow-downs are natural occurrences, but this one is a blessing in disguise, district wildlife manager Elissa Knox wrote to Linfield.
Parks and Wildlife was concerned for the last couple of years about how tall and unstable the nest had grown. The wildlife managers worried it would fall with chicks inside.
Luckily, the ospreys had already flown south before the storm.
“They’re regal birds,” said George Resseguie, board president of the Eagles Nest Property Homeowners Association. “The ospreys are just the all-stars.”
The nest is a landmark, he said. “Everybody talks about it and they all watch and see how many babies there are.”
The osprey mates don’t winter together, he said, but they always manage to return to the same nest within a week or two of each other.
“How do they know when to leave and when to come back?” he said. “It’s just a marvel, it really is — like nature at its best.”
Linfield said he is amazed by how the birds come back the first week of April every year, no matter the weather.
Linfield, Parks and Wildlife, and HOA board member John Taylor collaborated to replace the man-made part of the nest and its base before the snow comes.
On Monday, Nov. 3, the Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks will allow the bird lovers to access the nest site on its property, and Wagner Rents in Silverthorne will donate use of a 65-foot lift to reach the top of the 55-foot pole.
Osprey populations worldwide declined significantly in recent decades because of widespread use of the pesticide DDT. In 1983, only about 8,000 breeding pairs spent their summers in the U.S. A ban on DDT has led to a rebound, and by 2001 the U.S. population was estimated at 16,000 to 19,000 breeding pairs.
Now the biggest threats to North American ospreys are habitat loss because of human development and conflicts with fish farmers in Latin America.
Tuesday, Oct. 28, that it will push back its opening day, originally scheduled for Friday, Oct. 31.
Ski area officials said warm weather in the last two weeks caused the delay, and the resort will announce a new opening day as soon as snow conditions permit.
“Our top priority is to provide our guests with a superior early season product,” said John Buhler, Keystone Vice President and COO. “We’re all eager to get in those first turns, but it’s a long season and we want to make sure we’re providing the best conditions and experience possible from day one.”
The resort will provide daily updates at keystoneresort.com/openingupdate.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
That sounds a little strange for someone who vacations in a ski town on a regular basis, but Leonhart, who lives in Maryland, said she comes to Vail a couple times a year to visit her son, who lives in the valley, and she’s never gone skiing.
During these trips, her sons and other members of the family head out for the hill, but she’ll usually stay in and cook dinner, or go shopping in the village. Honestly, she says, it’s part the intimidation factor and part lack of know-how that’s keeping her from trying the sport out.
“We used to go to ski towns even before my son moved to Vail for vacation,” she said. “My husband and sons would ski and I wouldn’t. I think that I was a little afraid, and I always felt like there wasn’t anything for adults who didn’t know how to ski. For children there are programs and kiddie hills. I feel like children are expected to be beginners, but adults are expected to know how to ski.”
Leonhart is exactly the kind of visitor that Vail Resorts is targeting with their new women’s programs that aim to break down some of those barriers.
“We want to make the ski experience more accessible to all women, and then empower them to make time for themselves to have the ski experience they desire.” Kirsten Lynch Executive vice president, chief marketing officer of Vail Resorts
The goal of the programs — which include lesson schedules that work around kids ski school and beginner-focused, women-only group lessons — is to increase female participation in an industry that is actively looking for new customers.
“There is clearly an opportunity to understand what our women guests need to increase their participation in snowsports,” said Kirsten Lynch, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Vail Resorts. “We want to make the ski experience more accessible to all women, and then empower them to make time for themselves to have the ski experience they desire.”
New programs that will start this ski season include:
Women’s Ultimate 4: An all-ladies lesson taught by a female coach where women can learn for the first time or brush up on skiing skills in a small-group setting. Women’s Ultimate 4 lessons will be offered at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado, Park City and Canyons in Utah, and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe.
Mommy & Me: Four-hour lessons for women are scheduled to provide ample time for the drop-off and pick-up times of their kids’ lessons. There are also Mommy & Me lessons, where instructors spend time with the mother and the child, reviewing the child’s progress and giving tips on further development.
Prima: Based on customer feedback, Vail Resorts created Prima, a personalized concierge service to assist with every aspect of the vacation experience for Brazilian guests at Vail and Beaver Creek.
“This is just the beginning for the women in skiing initiative for Vail Resorts,” Lynch said. “We plan on continuing to invest significantly in this important segment of our guests.”
WHAT’S KEEPING YOU?
Vail Resorts said the offerings were crafted based on research with female guests during the 2013-14 ski season, aimed at understanding the barriers to the ski experience for women. Common themes included being overwhelmed by the process and having their hands full managing the experience for the other members of their group.
The women surveyed expressed some trepidation around ski school — feelings of being overwhelmed by the logistics of the experience, being out of place either socially or by ability level, and needing to justify the cost for lessons for themselves.
“A ski class where I felt comfortable would affect my decision a ton. I’d be pumped to learn with others like me,” said a woman from Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.
The women also said they wanted either ski lessons that better accommodated their children’s lessons, or lessons that included their children.
“It would be nice if there were two offerings to fit all women’s situations — jump into a lesson that started as soon as the slopes open or select a lesson that started around 9:30 or 10 a.m. so you could get the kids on their way,” said a Stillwell, Kansas, mother of four.
Many international participants said they wanted someone who could plan the vacation for them and act as an in-resort “concierge,” setting up all the details the women either didn’t know about or didn’t have time to address.
A GROWING MARKET
Others would say that the resort is following the direction of the rest of the industry. Ski equipment companies have been releasing an increasing number of women’s specific equipment in past seasons — especially high-end, high-performance products that aren’t just geared toward beginners.
John Phillips of Venture Sports in Avon says of the families who come into the shop for ski rentals, the majority of the women are skiing.
“It’s across the board as far as ability level, but most of the time, the ladies are definitely skiing,” he said.
That trend is reflected in the increasing number of women’s inventory the shop keeps around.
“We’ve seen our inventory of women’s demo skis go up because more women are asking for them,” Phillips said. “The manufacturers are making more — and better —women’s demo skis, and that means there’s a demand for it.”
So would all those new lessons get Leonhart out on the slopes? Maybe, she says, adding that she thinks the resort is on the mark with their efforts.
“I think there is a segment of the population that is just afraid of trying,” she said. “I am not sure I’d ski, but I’d love to do some kind of physical activity while I’m there. It’s just so beautiful out there and I love being outside to enjoy that.”
It’s the curse of alpine addicts the world over: New gear is expensive — ridiculously expensive.
And that’s not just colloquial wisdom. Let the numbers do the talking: During the 2013-14 season, the trade group Snowsports Industries America reported skiers and boarders spent roughly $2.8 billion on hard and soft goods. It set an industry record after two seasons of declining sales, thanks in large part to hot gadgets like action cameras and the rising popularity of alpine touring.
Yet new playthings hardly account for the bulk spending. In the same season, one of the top-selling ski boot models, the Fischer Vacuum line, cost a cool $650, while its counterpart in the snowboard world, the mid-range Burton Ruler, was slightly better at $230 — still nearly enough to buy an iPad Mini.
Why all the talk about boots? It’s the curse: After that first snow, when all the seductive, brand-new ski gear calls out from loaded shelves, devoted powder hounds tend to cave in and drop $700 on yet another pair of boots (or bindings, or a board) when all they really need is a beanie.
But you know better, and so do the gear heads at local shops. After all, most techs and product buyers began as penny-pinching ski bums. Who better to lift the snow sports curse? Just keep your personal ability in mind — there’s no need to settle for sketchy gear when your tib-fib is on the line.
Where to skimp
Buying a brand-new board or pair of skis is like buying a brand-new car: You’ll get the warm fuzzies picking the exact model you want, right down to waist width and top-sheet color, but it’s the kind of luxury only a select few can afford each season. For the rest, that opportunity only comes around every five years. Or less.
Enter the world of demo gear, aka the used cars of the ski business. Each season, rental outfitters order a full fleet of the freshest, most enticing skis and boards from high-end brands (Burton, Salomon, K2, etc.), then put last season’s models on sale for half-off or more, plus bindings. The juiciest part: Most demo equipment sees fewer than 50 days on the snow per season. Talk about low mileage.
Now, demo-gear sales are far removed from dubious Craigslist ads — think of it as buying direct from a dealer as opposed to scrounging a junkyard — but Matt Carroll, general manager and hardgoods buyer for Double Diamond ski shop in Vail, still warns bargain hunters to be wary.
“A lot of times people find a great deal, but it might be a lower level binding than what their ability is,” said Carroll, who notes that even high-end demo skis are often paired with entry-level bindings. “That’s one thing to look for if you want to get the full package.”
For skis, give the bindings a once-over — look for the right DIN settings to complement your skill level — and then scour the ski base to check for large dings, base welds and edge separation. If you don’t like the total package, then move on to the next pair.
The same goes for snowboards, but the binding issue isn’t as pressing. Snowboard binders are far easier to switch out and, as with most riding gear, cheaper in the first place. That said, the components tend to break more easily, so opt for a new pair if you ride hard (100-plus days per season), or at least know how to repair simple parts like high-backs and ankle straps.
Where to splurge
There’s a reason no self-respecting shop makes a killing on demo boots. To tap the car metaphor again, boots are like license plates: mandatory, easily overlooked and due for upgrades at least once per year. Boots are also pricey — and getting pricier each season — but think on it: Would you trust your ankle to a flimsy thrift-store pair?
For a 25-year local like Carroll, stellar boots mean the difference between comfort and misery on the hill. He often sees customers cut corners with a cheap, low-level pair, even if they dropped a grand on bindings and skis.
It begins (and ends) with the fit. When trying on new ski or snowboard boots, Carroll suggests removing the liner to get a feel for the shell size. This gives a sense of the “true” fit. All liners pack out over time — technology can’t overcome the daily grind — so if a boot fits perfectly in the shop with a sock and liner, Carroll says it will be too roomy after only a few weeks on the slopes. Blisters and muscle cramps follow soon after.
On the tech side, boot pricing comes down to preference. The BOA lace system is a must for boarders who like a tight, no-fuss fit without cloth laces, while a slew of alpine boots now feature a “walk” setting inspired by alpine touring gear. Carroll says the feature is a godsend for staircases and parking structures, and he also finds it’s also wildly popular with ski club parents who spend hours camped at a snowy finish line. It’s a perk to keep in mind with the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships around the corner.
Alpine touring 101
During the past decade or so, alpine touring (AT) has won over a new breed of alpine adventurers. (The SIA report shows AT sales jumped 8 percent last season.)
Like freestyle skiing, the tipping point was the advent of modern equipment: sturdy “skins” made of grippy, removable fabric for uphill climbing, plus flexible boots and convertible bindings that stand up to the tortures of cross-country travel and steep lines. With the right setup, untracked portions of the sidecountry are at your fingertips.
But the right AT setup isn’t always cheap, even if you know where to start. Don’t let that squelch your plans. Dan Brewster, owner of Haute Route in Avon, a brand-new AT and mountaineering shop, has a simple piece of advice for newcomers: Play to your strengths.
“It all depends on your objective,” said Brewster, who reminds clients that AT gear is often less expensive than an entry-level mountain bike. “If you want to be out there for uphill fitness, a lighter setup would help. If you want to go out and ski big peaks with huge lines, weight might not be a huge concern.”
Once you pinpoint an objective, put boots on the top of your shopping list. Brewster likes a lightweight four-buckle design for AT excursions, with the perfect combination of flex and support to handle just about any terrain in the Vail area. Try the Scott Cosmos ($749.95) for men or the La Sportiva Sparkle ($649.99) for women.
Next on the shopping list are bindings. Again, decent gear isn’t cheap — ski manufacturers debut new technology like it’s going out of style — but Brewster says a “tweener” binding like the G3 Ion ($500) is ideal for beginners. It’s light enough for long tours and strong enough for deep, powder-filled lines.
For outerwear, layers are a must (just leave the tall tees at home). The Rab Strata jacket features the brand-new, highly breathable Polartec Alpha loft fill — it’s the only jacket on the market with the buzz-worthy material — and everything from pants to backpacks are now designed for AT treks.
Before Elissa Knox goes to bed, she checks an app on her phone to see what time the sun will rise.
Then the wildlife officer works backward, setting her alarm for an hour or two before the sun’s rays start shining softly on the highest mountain peaks. That’s about a half hour before sunrise. It’s also known as first light.
With a large mug of coffee, she hops into her huge blue Colorado Parks and Wildlife truck. Inside, several small flashlights sit in a cup holder, pepper spray dangles on her keychain and a rifle and shotgun hang in a rack behind her head.
Knox turns on her radio, dialed into the Colorado State Patrol channel, and gives her call sign.
“Good morning. I’m 10-41,” she says. That means she’s on duty.
UP BEFORE DAWN
Knox, 37, is one of two district wildlife officers who patrol Summit County. On Wednesday, Oct. 22, the officer, also known as a game warden, spent the morning talking to hunters.
She drove along Tiger Road north of Breckenridge and up a skinny, bumpy road along the north fork of the Swan River and recorded license plate numbers of cars and campers that hunters parked near trailheads.
With temperatures in the upper 20s, Knox wore hiking boots, layers under her jeans and her official CPW fleece, a tan leather belt that held her sidearm, and her gold badge. She jumped out of the truck to peer into vehicles and knock on RV doors.
No one was around except one man visiting Summit with his dog for a week who was surprised by the snow that morning. Knox told him more snow was expected.
“Everyone asks me the weather forecast,” she said, walking back to her truck.
On the way back to Highway 9, she spotted a bright orange dot on a steep south-facing hillside: a hunter likely taking a break from climbing up the slope. A few elk moved maybe 100 yards above him.
Knox parked on the side of the road, turned off the engine and pulled out binoculars.
She watched as the hunter moved closer to the herd. Suddenly, a gunshot echoed on the surrounding hills.
“I think he missed,” she said, explaining that she didn’t see the elk fall or even flinch.
“I always root for the hunter if they’re doing everything right,” she said and then paused. “Well, that’s not true. I root for the animals, too.”
After hunters pull the trigger, they’re required to go look for blood if they miss and track down any injured animal. This hunter hiked up to the spot where Knox saw him aiming and walked around a bit more before descending.
When he returned to his vehicle, Knox was waiting for him.
They started a friendly conversation about the elk herd that ran out of sight over a ridge and chatted about hunting season before Knox asked to see his license.
The hunter, 34-year-old Charlie Schmidt of Silverthorne, pulled several licenses out of the back of his truck.
“Is it legal to have a dog with you when hunting large game?” he asked, while Knox logged his information.
Knox explained that dogs are allowed as long as they’re on a leash, not used for pursuing animals and don’t chase or harass wildlife.
SEIZING ELK AND FEEDING FOXES
On Tenderfoot Mountain in Dillon, Knox spent the rest of the morning driving along Frey Gulch Road, talking to more hunters and checking out their camps.
She visited what was left of the animal — spine, ribs, pelvis. Bears probably picked it clean, she said.
Around lunchtime, Knox met with a hunter in Silverthorne who illegally killed an elk cow the day before.
The hunter was licensed to shoot bull elk, and when he realized he shot a different animal than his target, he did the responsible thing and called Parks and Wildlife, Knox said.
Wildlife officers are given discretion when dealing with accidental or careless kills. Knox talked to him about the circumstances and because of the way he handled the incident, she decided to simply seize the animal and forgo charging him with hefty fines.
She would give the meat to another hunter with a cow license, she said, and void that person’s tag.
That afternoon, Knox responded to a nuisance call from someone in Breckenridge whose neighbor was feeding foxes.
Most people know they’re not supposed to feed wild animals, Knox said, but sometimes people in Summit love wildlife too much and do it anyway.
The woman wasn’t a repeat offender, so instead of a ticket and a fine, Knox gave her a talking to and some informational materials.
Wildlife officers spend much of their days traveling on rough roads and backcountry trails. On Saturday, Knox drove the truck up Williams Peak Road north of Green Mountain Reservoir and talked to about 80 hunters, a typical amount for the first day of second rifle season, she said.
Then Sunday, she was able to ride one of the three horses she owns and patrol on horseback. Depending on the terrain she needs to cover, she said, she uses an agency-provided ATV, snowmobile or boat.
A BETTER SHOT THAN MOST
Knox didn’t hunt as a kid, but she ate the wild game her dad killed and brought home to her family when she was growing up in Evergreen.
Her dad was a fisheries biologist with the Division of Wildlife (the agency finalized a merger with the Division of State Parks and Outdoor Recreation in 2012).
Knox grew up wanting to be a veterinarian or maybe a biologist, and after high school she started working seasonal wildlife jobs with the agency.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from a school in New York, then completed a veterinary, anatomy and neurobiology master’s at Colorado State University.
After school, she ran a lab in Craig for a year and a half studying chronic wasting disease, an illness affecting deer, elk and moose at the time.
There she did nighttime ride-alongs with district wildlife officers, and the experience prompted her to apply for that position.
Around that time, she started hunting with her dad.
“I really grew to love it,” she said. “It brings you back in touch with the natural world, and for me it’s where a lot of my food comes from.”
Since then, she’s hunted every season and brings home an elk or deer every other year, a much higher average than most.
Her knowledge and appreciation of the sport help her credibility with the hunters she interacts with now.
Ten years ago, her biology background and agency experience helped her earn a competitive spot in a class of nine wildlife officer recruits.
She completed a year of training, including training at a police academy in Denver, learning wildlife law and shadowing experienced officers.
In 2004, she started working in districts around Grand Junction and Rifle, and after eight years there, she moved to Summit County.
In January 2013, Knox replaced Shannon Schaller, who patrolled Summit County for about nine years.
The two women are good friends, Knox said, adding that few women work in the agency. Ten percent or less of game wardens are women, she said, and most of those work on the Front Range.
LEARNING TO COEXIST
Hunting season will continue into the winter, and Knox will add ice-fishing patrol to her duties as well as the occasional closing down of a ski run if a moose decides that’s where it wants to wander for a while.
Knox described her job as one-third law enforcement, one-third biology and one-third customer service, education and outreach.
Year-round she responds to nuisance calls, animal-car collisions and property damage caused by wildlife (landowners are sometimes compensated by CPW). As the seasons change, she helps with agency population counts and research studies, teaches hunter education classes, presents to HOAs and gives talks in schools.
Knox also writes comments for environmental assessments and impact statements when people propose new developments on public land.
Parks and Wildlife doesn’t manage national forest land, so Knox talks often with the Dillon Ranger District wildlife biologist and provides recommendations for the final decisions made by the Forest Service.
She doesn’t always agree with those decisions, citing recent proposals like the Weber Hut, the Tenderfoot Trail system and a housing development near tree line on Bald Mountain, and she lamented that elk used to inhabit much of Breckenridge Ski Resort but development has shrunk the herd and pushed it north toward Ophir Mountain.
“The wildlife are the ones that get euthanized when people make bad decisions,” she said, adding that she gets frustrated having to constantly educate people in a community full of vacationers, seasonal workers and other transients.
Some people don’t understand that living in the mountains might mean changing the way they handle their pets and their trash.
For the most part, though, people in Summit care about wildlife and act responsibly, she said, and her agency has good relationships with local governments and other partners.
“We’re lucky here they want to listen to what we have to say,” she said.
The best part of her job is making a difference for wildlife in Summit County, she said. Thinking about sustaining their populations and their habitat gives her a satisfying sense of purpose, and it doesn’t hurt that her office is usually outside.