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Wildlife awareness project sprouts up in Eagle Ranch

Local wildlife and land managers urge residents to keep their distance from wildlife this time of year.
Eagle County Open Space/Courtesy photo

The Hardscrabble Trails Coalition and the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance are teaming up with 970 Design to launch an Eagle-wide education initiative aimed to encourage more responsible coexistence between residents, visitors and wildlife.

Hardscrabble Trails Coalition secretary Nicole Asselin said the Eagle Ranch Wildlife Committee funded $40,000 toward an education campaign spearheaded by the two trail-centric nonprofits. Much like throughout the rest of the valley, the Eagle Ranch Golf Course sees several occurrences of miseducated people irresponsibly existing near wildlife. Asselin said an organized, positive peer-pressure campaign could be effective in shifting community behavior — and it’ll all kick off right in Eagle.

“In Eagle, we’re in such a unique place where we are coexisting with the wildlife, so there’s a need for a much broader, a much farther-reaching campaign,” Asselin said in the Dec. 6 Eagle Open Space and Recreation Advisory Committee meeting.

Local company 970 Design will assist the education campaign, bringing an engaging and playful element that aims to reach everyone. Asselin said 970 Design successfully put out a COVID-19 campaign with a positive peer pressure model that proved to be effective in shifting community attitude. 

“It was very positive; it was clear and we very quickly started to see the shift toward compliance with that,” Asselin said. “You know, back in the day thinking about everybody covering up was just such a foreign policy, it was the right thing to do, but there was also a lot of hesitance. So, I think there are a lot of parallels between that campaign, you know, and it’s the right thing to do to leash the dog.”

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So, whether it’s leashing one’s dog, keeping a distance from wildlife or staying off trails at night, Asselin said anyone can do their fair share to be better neighbors to local wildlife.

“It’s not going to be branded specifically for trails, it’s not going to be focused on recreation,” Asselin said. “It’s the larger picture of coexisting with wildlife and what is the right thing to do.”

To positively reinforce this message, the initiative will not only focus on educational and engaging designs created by 970 Designs, but it will also encourage positive interactions that reinforce responsible behaviors. 

A mule deer hops a fence in Eagle Ranch in November.
Ben Roof/For the Vail Daily

Inspired by former Eagle Police Chief Joey Staufer, who gave incentives when he saw people walking dogs on a leash, Hardscrabble Trails Coalition and Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance volunteers will work to incentivize responsible coexistence with wildlife. 

“It just creates an opportunity for that positivity and that community support, which is really the crux of the peer pressure aspect of this,” Asselin said. 

The $40,000 from Eagle Ranch Wildlife Committee “gets us there,” Asselin said of implementing the campaign. However, in hopes of it being an even bigger success, the Hardscrabble Trails Coalition and Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance plan to request another $20,000 in funding from Eagle. From those funds, $10,000 will be budgeted for a town-wide online media campaign, and the other $10,000 will be put toward two direct mailers sent to every Eagle resident. 

“When I look at direct mail, when I look at media, I think probably one of the most valuable things that they bring is the opportunity for measured engagement,” Asselin said. 

The town-wide education campaign is also set to be measured in several other ways, including setting aside money for more trail cameras to track leash and nighttime recreation compliance more accurately.

Aside from creating trackable engagement, Asselin said the mailers and media projects will be effective in reaching those who may not have previously been reached regarding how to be responsible living among wildlife. 

Additionally, the campaign will include both English and Spanish translations for many designs, Asselin explained. 

“It does require a lot of time and resources to execute this type of campaign and I’m really excited that we have the initial funding to set that foundation,” Asselin said.

With the initial funding coming from the Eagle Ranch Wildlife Committee, Asselin said the education initiative will be solely Eagle-focused upon its establishment. However, pending success, she explained that the campaign has the potential to take off on a larger scale. 

“You could really see this growing and evolving depending on the effectiveness that we have and the support that we have,” Asselin said.

970 Design has committed to a Feb. 6 launch of the education campaign, so regardless of if the campaign gets additional funding from Eagle, educational signage will start popping up around Eagle businesses and more strides will be made by the Hardscrabble Trails Coalition and the Vail Valley Mountain Trails Alliance to broaden the reach of wildlife stewardship education. 

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