Vail, CO: Bighorn Habitat Wins Over Housing Development
May 5, 2022
Dear Vail Council Members:
On behalf of the Wild Sheep Foundation and our 10,000+ members, our 38 chapters and affiliate chapters and their 20,000+ member, and countless wild sheep enthusiasts across North America, we are in support of Resolution No. 22 and using the power of eminent domain to block this housing development. We are opposed to this development on the proposed site because it will mark the begin of the end of Colorado's Gore Range bighorn sheep herd.
Although the proposed site is small, this housing development will negatively impact sheep in an area much more extensive than 5.4 areas. The addition of human activity, including noise, cars, and pets that accompany such developments, combined with cutting off what little winter migration corridor habitat is left in this area, will stress this herd down to an unsustainable level. This parcel sits within this herd's winter range and is the most critical factor for the herd's long-term viability.
The bighorn sheep herd in this range is one of the few remaining endemic high elevation sheep herds in the state and is considered a Tier 1 herd by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
This parcel is within the only sheep winter range for this herd, encompassing only 1,800 areas. However, fire suppression and mountain shrub encroachment have significantly reduced the functionality of the majority of this habitat. The sheep living there currently use only 300-400 acres.
Unlike mule deer, elk, and antelope, that have more options when human developments displace them, bighorn sheep are not as lucky. The habitats they need to make a living are a specific mixture of open alpine meadows and ridges and open rock cliffs necessary to evade predators and south-facing slopes that blow clear of deep snows. Such habitats do not exist everywhere, which is why bighorn sheep are not found everywhere.
This bighorn herd is special to Colorado's citizens and the residents and visitors of Vail. What is being proposed, if done, cannot be undone.
Gray N. Thornton
President and CEO, Wild Sheep Foundation