PROTECT BIGHORN WINTER HABITAT
A south‐facing hillside in the east end of the Vail Valley has for millenia provided critical winter habitat for the sole-remaining native herd of bighorn sheep in Eagle County, and perhaps the last truly native herd in Colorado. These iconic animals travel between their winter habitat and the Eagles Nest Wilderness. Sometimes called Booth Heights, the land is located north of the East Vail Exit off I‐70. Vail Resorts’ plans to develop high-density housing on the bighorn’s habitat directly threatens this vital winter habitat.
The Town of Vail recognizes the importance of the parcel to local wildlife, and has tried for years to negotiate an exchange with Vail Resorts, offering numerous other parcels more suited for development as much-needed employee housing. Vail Resorts rejected the Town's proposals and confirmed plans to develop. A Colorado Parks & Wildlife officer has said the proposed development would mean the demise of the herd.
ESWA's efforts, along with local groups', to persuade Vail Resorts to reverse course have been unsuccessful. In 2022, the Town Council voted to protect this critical wildlife habitat through eminent domain, and won a favorable decision in district court. On September 18, 2023, a court-appointed commission determined the purchase price to be $17,519,985, significantly more that the $12 million the Town had budgeted. Nevertheless, on November 6, 2023, Vail Resorts appealed these decisions, further delaying protection of the bighorns' critical habitat.
The Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee has asked the Board of Commissioners to approve spending $5 million in open space funds as a contribution to the purchase. Even if these funds are approved by the County, significant additional funds must be raised to complete the purchase and cover attorneys' fees and related costs.
For more information:
October 20 Vail Daily here
Mike Browning’s opinion piece here
Frances Hartogh's Get Wild article here
More on Vail Resorts' appeal of the court's decisions here
WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY
Message Vail Town Council at firstname.lastname@example.org. Urge them to complete the purchase of Booth Heights and permanently dedicate the land for use as wildlife habitat.
Message the Eagle County Board of Commissioners at email@example.com. Urge them to contribute $5 million to the purchase of Booth Heights to protect the bighorns.
Donate to the community-driven fundraising effort to protect the Vail bighorns at Wild Sheep Foundation: https://www.wildsheepfoundation.org/support/donate. Select Vail Bighorn Sheep Initiative.
Message and call Vail Resorts (firstname.lastname@example.org; phone (970)754‐0005. Urge them to support the Town's purchase and to lower the price. In your communication, note the importance of the site for the bighorns, and Vail Resorts’ own policy (Epic Promise) to be an environmental steward.