PITKIN COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A small herd of cattle tried to make the inside of a cabin their winter home, but they still couldn’t survive the elements. Now the U.S. Forest Service has the grim task of determining what to do with the carcasses.
A group of hikers found the dead cows frozen in a hut near the popular Conundrum Hot Springs in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area between Aspen and Crested Butte.
There are a total of seven dead cows. Some hikers said one of the cows outside the hut has already been partially eaten.
The Forest Service is concerned because it’s a heavily populated area with coyotes and bears and they want to eliminate the possibility of human interaction with the predators.
“The greatest concern is public safety. These animals are frozen right now but they’re beginning to defrost,” Steve Segin with the Rocky Mountain Coordination Center said. “A lot of animals; predators, coyotes, bears, and other animals are going to start to feed on the carcasses. This is a high recreational-use area, so we want to try to limit any impact recreationists are going to have with wildlife.”
The hut has been left over from the old mining era a century ago.
There are three options on the table — burn it, blow it up, or do nothing. There’s a fire danger concern, but there’s also lots of snow near the hut right now.
“Within the wilderness you can’t use any mechanical means, so that means no vehicles, no chainsaws, no helicopters,” Segin said.
It’s believed the cows left a herd near Gunnison in the fall. The rancher and Forest Service looked for them before the winter but couldn’t find them. The dead cows were finally found a few weeks ago by a pair of Air Force Academy cadets who snowshoed in the area.
Now that they’ve been found, forest officials are concerned about the frozen carcasses thawing out and attracting predators, or contaminating the popular hot springs nearby.