They shoot elk, don't they?


updated 1/28/09

In the mountains of central Colorado, an overgrown elk herd has been chewing Rocky Mountain National Park to the nub for decades now. The ungulates munch new aspens and willows before they can grow, and graze alpine meadows to golf-course length. So park officials plan to return to the method they used to thin out elk between 1944 and 1968 – shooting them.

Park officials have spent the past three years deciding how to trim the herd. They've been helped by harsh winters and a strong 2006 hunting season just outside the park, which dropped elk numbers to between 1,700 and 2,100 (from a high of as many as 3,500 in the late ‘90s). But biologists say a healthy population would be smaller still -- 1,600 to 2,000.

Officials considered reintroducing wolves to eat the excess elk, but the state says it will support wolf recovery only if it occurs naturally, through migration (which may very well happen, by the way – in 2004, a wolf was hit on I-70 near Denver, in 2006 one was filmed in northern Colorado, and in 2007 “credible” sightings occurred in the park itself).

The park finally decided to cull the elk, in addition to fencing off some areas and studying potential birth control. Over the next month or so, certain areas of the park will be closed so that teams of sharpshooters can begin picking off up to 100 cow elk. The meat will be given to a mountain lion study and to winners of a lottery. "This is not a hunting activity,” said Park Superintendent Vaughn Baker in the National Parks Traveller. “… (T)his is not people out in the woods in orange vests as we envision hunting going on in Colorado's wilderness. It will be a very organized and a very controlled setting."

WildEarth Guardians has asked the Obama administration to halt the culling until it can reconsider the plan, especially given that Bush just lifted the ban on guns in national parks on his way out the door. And if some tourist’s kid ends up seeing Elsie Elk get whacked, it's a great opportunity for a lesson in carrying capacity and predator-prey balance.

What no night vision goggles?
Ed Abbey
Ed Abbey
Jan 28, 2009 05:17 PM
   At the very least some people and a few mountain lions are going to get some good food for a while. I guess its a good compromise the way they are doing it. At least there won't be any commandos with night vision and silencers offing the critters and pushing them into a mass grave.

  And for your information Jodi, no park visitors kid would see anything shocking in the event of a cull. I assume you are not worried about a park visitors child seeing a starving elk, a roadkill, or a wolf kill. Would any of these be less brutal, violent or shocking than an elk getting shot? Besides which, what park visitor in America is going to get far enough away from their car to see an elk during a cull anyway? Wild Earth Guardians needs to back off and plant some trees or something. I have about 10K that need planting. Do something, don't stand in the way of something.

BTW I think introducing wolves would have been a just fine too.
Jodi Peterson
Jodi Peterson
Jan 28, 2009 05:32 PM
Dear Ed, thanks for the comment from beyond the grave. My wording about the kid seeing the elk get whacked carried the wrong tone -- I've reworded to more clearly convey what I meant. You can roll back over now.

Culling might be best option at this point
Jan 29, 2009 08:47 AM
Pardon the pun, but there is no silver bullet solution for this problem.

Regarding issuing public hunts instead of having park rangers doing the culling, which I hear many folks advocating: Using park rangers allows them to pick animals that would have died from natural selection. Secondly, it decreases the risks of an accident when untrained Billy Bob shoots a visitor by mistake. Finally, and most importantly, hunting is illegal in national parks. We would need an act of Congress to allow public hunts in RMNP. Talk to your representatives if you want them to make a law allowing hunting. Until then, we’re going to have to live with the professionals doing the culling. I’m pretty sure the meat still gets used.

Regarding reintroduction of wolves, this isn’t easy either. We cannot compare Idaho, Wyoming and Montana to Colorado. Colorado has more people than all three of those states combined. Colorado is pretty darn crowded to be suitable for wolf reintroduction. Plus, one pack can cover a territory of 400 square miles. That’s okay when they’re in central Idaho, but not the Front Range. They will most definitely NOT stay within RMNP boundaries, so I’d like some thoughts from wolf reintroduction advocates on how to manage wolves outside of the park. If we let them roam, what do we do about wolves eating livestock and wolves close to urban centers (which leads to dead dogs and dumb parents who go berserk thinking a wolf is going to eat their child, etc).

It is not an option whatsoever to allow these overpopulated elk run rampant on important ecosystems.

I like the posiblities of fertility control, and that option should definitely be persued as a longer-term solution. I do think maybe a better solution can be worked out, but for now, we have to live with culling.
Culling is the only option.
Ed Abbey
Ed Abbey
Jan 29, 2009 06:05 PM
A couple of things.

1. Billy bob? while I realize that many hunters (and I am one) are shall we say "stereotypically challenged" I think name calling is pointless and frankly childish. I refrained from calling Wild Earth guardians any names, because I know that where their hearts are is right, even though I disagree with their methods.

2. I don't think hunting in the park is a good option, even if it was feasible. The BS and money interests of guides and fat cat trophy hunters is already out of control on public lands, imagine what a goddamned mess it would make in a park.

3. Birth Control? That is frankly only proposed in my opinion because some cannot accept the fact NATURAL mechanisms to maintain appropriate populations of herbivores involve death and consumption by carnivores. If unrealistic laws and management restraints enacted at the behest of special interest groups like Ranchers, environmentalists, animal rights activists, pet owners, etc. make all death outside of senescence unlikely, starvation and disease must follow. Birth control is only proposed because apparently, death in all of its forms is an unacceptable outcome.
Guess we agree then
Jan 30, 2009 07:54 AM
There are many kinds of hunters, Ed. Most I know are very considerate, environmentally conscious, and know what they’re doing. Then there’s the type who barely pass their hunter ed, could care less about throwing empty beer cans around, and enjoy firing multiple rounds into a herd of elk. Shall I pull up some facts about ridiculous hunting accidents to prove my point? If you haven’t seen these “Billy Bobs,” then I don’t know where in the heck you live or hunt. These folks are the minority for sure, so don’t take my use of Billy Bob as an offence to you and all the other good hunters. All I’m saying is it’s better to have professionals do the culling, which apparently you agree with.

I certainly see nothing wrong with elk dying, whether it be by a bullet or a wolf. But in today’s environment, killing things tends not to be the most politically correct solution. It’s not only the animal rights whackos who don’t want to see game die. Most of the people in western Colorado were screaming for Division of Wildlife to feed the deer last winter. These are pretty “hard” westerners who couldn’t stand to see a deer starve. I hate to give in to political correctness—after all, this is their problem they can’t live with a few dead animals, not ours. But sometimes we need to look for the best political solutions, and fertility control might be something that everyone can live with. It’s working with wild horses. Can’t see why looking into it is a bad thing. But for the time being, it seems everyone here agrees culling is the best option.
They shoot elk don't they?
George Wirt
George Wirt
Feb 13, 2009 04:43 PM
Montana lets the wolves demonstrate to tourists kids how an elk gets eaten alive by wolves in Yellowstone Park. Nice alternative.