East Vail’s Bighorn sheep herd:Great news

Great news! Vail Town Council voted 5-2 on October 3 to acquire the bighorn sheep essential severe winter range in East Vail. The price is approximately $17.5 million for the 23-acre parcel.

Earlier this year, Eagle County District Court Chief Judge had granted the Town of Vail immediate possession of the parcel following a lengthy dispute with Vail Resorts, ruling that the Town has authority to condemn the parcel “for a public use and purpose” and that there “is a necessity to acquire the subject property for that public use or purpose.” This small parcel is severe winter range for the bighorn sheep herd. The Town’s petition in condemnation filed in October 2022 culminated in a three-day hearing in May. The outcome flowed from a long dispute that began a few years ago before the Town’s Planning and Environmental Commission, and progressed to Town Council twice. The second time, in May of 2022, the Council voted to condemn the Booth Heights parcel as negotiations with Vail Resorts were unsuccessful. Vail Resorts had intended to construct housing there in the face of expert opinion by three highly credible independent wildlife biologists (two of whom had retired from CPW and one had retired from the US Forest Service as its bighorn sheep expert) that were repeated multiple times during the process. Of course, Vail needs additional affordable housing, no one has disputed that need, and the Town had urged Vail Resorts to consider alternative building sites. The issue was the critical location of this small parcel of severe winter range. Severe winter range, defined by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, is that part of the winter range where 90% of the individual animals are located when the annual snowpack is at its maximum and/or temperatures are at a minimum in the two worst winters out of 10. The Town is required to make a deposit of $12 million and in September the District Court will hold a hearing to determine compensation to Vail Resorts for the parcel.

During the past several years CWF had participated in Town of Vail hearings before its Planning and Environmental Commission and before the Town Council in favor of conserving the parcel for the herd’s necessary severe winter range. CWF also had submitted an amicus curie brief in an earlier lawsuit before the court. We are very pleased with the Court’s order. For more information, read the piece in the Vail Daily.