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What to do with frozen cows stuck in cabin at 11,200 feet?

U.S. Forest Service

Hikers found dead cows inside this U.S. Forest Service cabin, located in the mountains near Aspen, Colo. The outline of one carcass is seen through the doorway.

Granted, the U.S. Forest Service usually has bigger issues to deal with, but this got its attention because of its rather unique nature: How to dispose of six frozen cows stuck inside a Forest Service cabin, and more scattered outside, at 11,200 feet elevation?

And, no, this is not a hypothetical: In late March snowshoers who had hoped to use the cabin at Colorado's Conundrum Hot Springs found it already occupied -- by dead cows, which had apparently gotten out of the cold but were too dumb to find the exit, the Aspen Daily News reported.

The options now being weighed include: blowing up the carcasses; burning the cabin (and carcasses); or hauling the carcasses out with a helicopter or wheeled vehicle.

A final decision might be a few days away, but the newspaper quoted Forest Service spokesman Scott Snelson as saying "we need to dispose of them sooner rather than later" because the hot springs might become polluted if the carcasses are allowed to thaw and decay.

Manure is already all over the hot springs and the cabin is filled with it, Jeff Malin, a Boulder resident who hiked to the site, told the newspaper. "They obviously spent a lot of time there," he said, calling it a "real mess."

The site is 8.5 miles from the Aspen area in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.

Using helicopters is probably too expensive, and trucks are usually barred from formal wilderness areas, the Associated Press cited Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin as saying. 

The Forest Service does sometimes use explosives to destroy carcasses that can't be retrieved. "We've used them as a means of disposal to remove dead horses, elk and other animals," Segin noted.  

As for where the cows came from, the Forest Service said they were part of a herd of 29 that went missing last fall from the nearby Gunnison National Forest.

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