Rocky Mountain National Park may shoot elk to shrink herd |

Rocky Mountain National Park may shoot elk to shrink herd

An elk cow and her calf look up from grazing as a group of golfers go about their game at the Estes Park Golf Course in Estes Park, Colo., in this 2002, file photo. Thousands of tourists visit Rocky Mountain National Park every year to view herds of elk during the rutting season, but the elk can also be seen in town. Elk at Rocky Mountain National Park would be killed and some animals would be redistributed, possibly with the help of wolves, to reduce the size of the herd at the park under the preferred alternative of four proposals outlined in the Draft Elk and Vegetation Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement for the park, released Monday, April 24, 2006. (AP Photo/The Daily Camera, Carmel Zucker)

DENVER – Rocky Mountain National Park has proposed shooting hundreds of elk and perhaps using wolves to reduce what biologists say has become an unmanageable population.A draft elk management plan released Monday includes a recommendation to have park employees or contractors shoot 200 to 700 elk in the first four years. After that, another 25 to 150 elk would be culled annually for 16 years.The goal is to reduce the number of elk from the roughly 4,000 now roaming the park and adjacent town of Estes Park to between 1,200 and 1,700.

Biologists say the huge elk herd has overgrazed the park so badly that other animals and plants have been hurt by loss of habitat and food. Elk numbers have escalated because the animals have few predators and no hunting is allowed in the park.Wolves were wiped out in Colorado by the 1930s after ranchers, government agents and others shot, trapped and poisoned the predator.Park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson said the recommended option includes eventually using wolves to rein in elk. She said biologists considered that wolves may move into Colorado on their own; at least one wolf made it all the way from Yellowstone National Park in 2004.The wolf was found dead along Interstate 70 west of Denver.

Any proposal to release wolves in Colorado would have to be considered by federal and state agencies and would meet strong opposition from ranchers and others.The plan backed by park officials also suggests fencing off aspen trees, whose bark is a favorite elk food.Other options include giving elk birth control and a less aggressive culling program that would remove only 100 to 200 elk a year over 20 years.The National Park Service will issue a final environmental impact statement after taking public comments.

Rocky Mountain National Park straddles the Continental Divide about 60 miles northwest of Denver. Its spectacular mountain vistas draw nearly 3 million visitors a year.—On the Net:

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