By STEVEN K. PAULSON, Associated Press
DENVER (AP) -- Three rangers and three ranchers headed up a mountain near Aspen on Thursday to carve up cattle found frozen in a cabin before the carcasses thaw and contaminate a popular hot springs nearby.
Bill Kight of the U.S. Forest Service said the group planned to cut up the remains and scatter them over a wide area in an effort to draw bears and mountain lions away.
"It would be like predators having a buffet," Kight said.
The cabin is located less than 100 feet from the Conundrum Hot Springs, a popular camping area and a nine-mile hike from the Aspen area in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area.
Air Force Academy cadets snowshoeing in late March found the dead cattle in and around the cabin. Rangers believe the cows wandered into the structure during a snowstorm but couldn't get out.
Forest Service officials were trying to figure how to get rid of the dead animals before they defrost and decompose. They explored burning or blowing up the cabin with explosives but decided to cut up the carcasses instead.
The animals came from a herd of 29 cows that went missing last fall from the nearby Gunnison National Forest where the rancher had a permit. An aerial search failed to turn up any sign of the animals.
Kight declined to identify the rancher, saying the owner did all he could to round up the animals. Kight said no one knows what happened to the other cows.
Michael Carroll, a spokesman for the Wilderness Society in Colorado, said environmentalists would prefer removing the cattle and burning down the building because it's located in a wilderness area, but Kight said that would require an environmental assessment that could be too expensive.
"We just don't have the funds to do it right now," he said.
Kight said hikers are being warned to stay off the hiking trail for the next month to ensure their safety and avoid predators. He said warning signs will also be posted on the cabin so people are aware of possible contamination.