An enforcement officer might let hikers off the hook for entering a closed wildlife area for many reasons, but arguing that the closure doesn’t “really matter” because the weather is so nice, apparently, isn’t one of them.
Each year, the Bureau of Land Management cordons off specific areas in La Plata County from Dec. 1 through April 15, which is sometimes extended to April 30 if needed, to protect critical winter wildlife habitat. At all trailheads, there are signs that inform users of the closure, and at most, there is a chain barricade across the trail.
But that doesn’t stop fervent hikers from trying to skirt the law and enjoy the outdoors.
According to documents released under a Freedom of Information Act request, the BLM issued 19 groups a violation for entering a closure area in the 2015-2016 season, carrying with it a fine of $275.
In all instances, the groups (which are defined in size from one to nine people) were issued one ticket, allowing the nature enthusiasts turned trespassers to split the cost.
In total, 64 people and 27 groups were contacted in closed wildlife habitats, 12 groups were issued warning notices and three groups were issued warnings for having their dogs off leash.
Though patrols were conducted in Big Canyon, Sale Barn and Three Springs, all violations occurred on Animas City Mountain.
“The majority of patrol time was spent in the Animas City Mountain Area, usually several hours for each patrol check, with only a short amount of time spent at the other areas,” the BLM wrote in the FOIA request. “The majority of closure intrusions were within the Animas City Mountain area, so patrols were focused on that area.”
Most people claimed they didn’t know about the closure, or missed warning signs, or mistakenly wandered into the area. Yet some explanations included in the FOIA request are truly eyebrow raising.
On March 20 around 4:25 p.m., BLM officers encountered nine hikers walking out of the Animas City Mountain area.
“The group informed me that with the weather being so nice, they didn’t think the closure really mattered,” the responding officer wrote.
The group was issued a violation.
Then, about 30 minutes later, the apparent seduction of a sunny day struck again when BLM officers found three more individuals hiking on Animas City Mountain, who plead to officers they thought the closure did not apply during favorable weather.
That group, too, was issued the $275 ticket.
On April 3, when one woman and her dog were caught hiking the trail at the north end of Durango, she tried to talk her way out of the ticket, reasoning that she was preparing for the Colorado Trail.
“(She) admitted to me she was aware of the closure but was trying to find areas around Durango that had some elevation to the trails to prepare for hiking the Colorado Trail during the summer months,” the officer wrote.
Other instances included one individual who tried to run away, but was swiftly apprehended, and another report of a man living on public lands, who was told to leave, and the next day, was gone.
On April 2, a BLM officer issued a warning to a juvenile for consumption and possession of alcohol, and a warning to the person who provided the alcohol to the minor. It is unclear if authorities were contacted.
There were 24 patrols at Animas City Mountain, which also resulted in four reports of fresh tracks in the area, but no people around.
During inspections, officers reported both foot and mountain bike tracks.
At Big Canyon, there were 29 patrol checks, and nine reports filed documenting fresh tracks.
At Sale Barn, there were 28 patrol checks, and four reports of fresh tracks but no people.
And at Three Springs, there was only one patrol check, which found nothing of note.
The reports did not show how many hours were spent in each area.
The BLM’s Tres Rios office was not immediately available for comment Thursday.