Dec
19
2007

Another wildlife dilemma: Are too many elk hurting Rocky Mountain National Park?

Helping or hurting: An overbalance of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park has wildlife officials grappling with what to do. Should they open up limited hunting on the animals to protect fragile plant life in the park that the elk like to eat?
Helping or hurting: An overbalance of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park has wildlife officials grappling with what to do. Should they open up limited hunting on the animals to protect fragile plant life in the park that the elk like to eat?Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
While one bear in Minnesota (see story above) has got people up in arms about the proper ways to balance nature, it’s a growing overpopulation of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park that have the same issues being hashed over in Colorado.

Wildlife managers have created a new, slower plan on how to reduce the number of elk in the national park near Estes Park. While original plans called for allowing hunters to take 700 elk a year, the new plan has reduced that figure down to 100 to 200 elk per year. Those new numbers would lower the elk population to manageable levels in about 20 years. The original plan would have done that much quicker.

What’s the problem with too many elk? Officials say the large numbers are leading to overgrazing of some rare and delicate mountain plants, trees and bushes -- some which take decades to grow.

Right now, estimates for the elk population in the park are between 2,200 and 3,100. Wildlife managers figure the optimum population should be between 1,600 and 2,100 elk.

Of course, there are those out there who think other measures should be taken, rather than hunting, in reducing the number of elk, such as herding surplus elk and reintroducing them into an area that’s “elk friendly,” but doesn’t have a current population of the animals.

And over the year or so of study on the issue, wildlife managers report that they’re starting to see a natural decrease in the elk population. Other new aspects of the elk management plan are to put up fencing around young, fragile mountain vegetation to prevent elk from eating it before it has a chance to grow strong.

Do you have an idea on how to deal with the situation? Share them here with Science Buzz readers.

BTW: Here’s a link to a recent Buzz story on the growing Elk population in Minnesota.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I think I know how to solve this problem: more cheetahs!

posted on Wed, 12/19/2007 - 8:34pm

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