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A real cow-nundrum: How to dispose of frozen carcasses in cabin

April 18, 2012|John M. Glionna
  • The Conundrum Creek cabin in White River National Forest, near Aspen, Colo., where as many as six cows that froze to death remain.
The Conundrum Creek cabin in White River National Forest, near Aspen, Colo.,… (U.S. Forest Service )

LAS VEGAS -- U.S. Forest Service officials in Colorado are calling it the conundrum on Conundrum Creek: how to remove six cows that wandered into a wilderness cabin high in the Rocky Mountains and froze to death – stiff as boards – when they couldn’t get out.

For officials, here’s the beef: Environmental restrictions won’t let them use machinery of any kind to remove the frozen carcasses. They can’t use flatbed trucks because the cabin is eight miles from the nearest road. And they want to remove the carcasses before they thaw and become free meals for the local bear population; drawing the predators near hikers who flock to a local hot springs.

“Like I say, it’s a conundrum,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s a real problem. We don’t know how we’re going to get them out of there.”

Officials are trying to decide whether to burn the old ranger cabin and its contents or even use explosives to dislodge the cows. The cabin is located near the Conundrum Hot Springs, an arduous hike from the Aspen area in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area.

The animals are apparently part of a herd of 29 cows that went missing last fall from the nearby Gunnison National Forest , where a rancher had a permit to graze the animals on federal land. Searches by horse and helicopter failed to turn up the missing animals, Segin said.

The carcasses were discovered three weeks ago by two Air Force Academy cadets who snow-shoed to the cabin.

Segin said officials are scratching their heads over how the animals became trapped in the old cabin, a relic without doors from the region’s prospecting days . Some people believe the cows sought shelter during a snowstorm and weren't intelligent enough to find their way out.

“They probably assumed it was a barn,” Segin said.

There were six in the cabin and one located a short distance away.

“There aren’t many good choices of how to dispose of them,” Segin said. “Do nothing – close the area and let nature take its course. Burn the cabin and the cows. Or explode the animals.”

 “Obviously, time is of the essence because we don't want them defrosting.”

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