Frozen Cows Present Dilemma In Rockies

Six dead cows, likely part of a herd of 29 cattle that went missing last fall, were recently found frozen solid in a cabin high in the Rocky Mountains. Melissa Block talks to Scott Snelson, district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris District for the White River National Forest, about how the forest service plans to dislodge the cows.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The U.S. Forest Service has a cow problem: six dead cows. They were discovered inside a cabin, piled up and frozen solid in the Colorado backcountry. The cabin is at Conundrum Hot Springs at 11,200 feet, accessible only by a precipitous hike. And rangers are trying to figure out how to get rid of the carcasses before they decompose.

Scott Snelson is district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris District at the White River National Forest where the cows were found. And he joins me now.

And, Scott, how did the cows get into the cabin, do you think?

SCOTT SNELSON: Well, we have grazing permits on the forest and our neighboring forest, the Gunnison side, had a couple of wandering - actually 29 wandering cows that came over from the other side over quite a long distance. And they found shelter at the Conundrum Hot Springs site once it started snowing.

BLOCK: Well, what are the problems that you're worried that these cows might cause as the weather heats up, the snow melts, and they start to decompose?

SNELSON: Well, we're concerned primarily about bears are coming out from their hibernation, and they're awful hungry. So we've got a lot of hikers eager to go up there with our early snowmelt. And we want to make sure that folks don't get hurt. And if we've got aggressive bears up there, that we don't get the bears in trouble as well.

BLOCK: Hmm. Is there a concern about water contamination too?

SNELSON: Sure, it's possible that some bears can haul that stuff around and get it in the waterway. And with this popular of a recreational site, water contamination is of concern.

BLOCK: Well, Scott, I guess the conundrum up at Conundrum Hot Springs is what to do about these carcasses. This area, I gather, is off-limits to vehicles, right? You can't haul them out.

SNELSON: That's correct.

BLOCK: And what other options are there, then?

SNELSON: Well, basically, we can close the trail until the nature takes care of the carrion. The other thing we can do is oftentimes we'll use explosives to break those things up into smaller pieces, so scavengers can clean those up a little bit quicker. And we are looking at the opportunity to potentially have a big bonfire with that cabin and take care of the carcasses in the process.

BLOCK: Uh-huh. So you might blow up the whole cabin or burn the cabin down.

SNELSON: Yeah, the explosive option is an option that we'll keep in our toolbox. Blowing up carcasses is a little bit of an inexact science. Oftentimes, you don't get it quite in the size of pieces that you'd like to see for quick cleanup. So it's likely that we're going to do a little burning up there.

BLOCK: Have you ever seen a problem like this before, a number of cows in this site? And you mentioned that there may be others that you just haven't found yet. They're still under the snow.

SNELSON: Yes, cows and other wildlife certainly die by the thousands on the National Forest every year. This is really not that far out of the ordinary. It's just sort of an interesting twist on it. It just seems to have caught people's interest.

BLOCK: Yeah, it's just the one that...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: This is the one that we sad media people care about clearly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SNELSON: It is pretty juicy story. Conundrum Creek, cows in a cabin; explosives, potentially a big barbecue. Yeah, I can see why people are interested.

BLOCK: Well, good luck with the cleanup. I hope it goes well. Thanks for talking to us about it.

SNELSON: My pleasure.

BLOCK: That's Scott Snelson, district ranger for the Aspen-Sopris District of the White River National Forest in Colorado, talking about how they plan to get rid of six dead cows frozen in a cabin, and maybe others, high in the Rocky Mountains.

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