Officials at the National Elk Refuge are defending the continued seasonal closure of the bike and pedestrian pathway adjacent the refuge as necessary for the protection of the wildlife there. Refuge Manager Steve Kallin points out that while some observers have noted few animals near the pathway and little disturbance to those by the presence of human activity, refuge staff has documented descriptions of animals bolting or noticeably stressed by people parking alongside the road, exiting their vehicles and approaching the fence. Refuge officials says between two and four thousand elk remain on the refuge this week as the animals move off and back onto the refuge during the uncertain weather of the season. Kallin points out that this repeated movement of the elk serves as an example of the complications that could arise from an earlier opening of the pathway. Unlike neighboring federal lands with multiple recreational opportunities, refuge officials point out the National Elk Refuge is mandated to prioritize habitat and wildlife conservation, adhering to a “wildlife first” mission when considering or allowing public uses.