Too Many Elk, Not Enough Predators

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Rocky Mountain National Park, located in Colorado is home to over 3,500 elk. The optimum population is between 600 and 800. The elk have no predators, can eat, sleep, without having to roam too far. The park is then faced with having to thin the population.  The herd has been culled, and birth control used on the cow elk. The problem is the elk typically stay in the meadows and are damaging trees that support other wildlife, so the park would like to drastically reduce the number. There have been discussions of reintroducing the gray wolf, with a maximum number of 14, so they would kill some of the elk, and also disperse the elk around the 415 square-mile park.

Use of "fertility control" would still require annual culling to keep the numbers down. The process to give the elk the birth control requires tranquilizing the elk, then vaccinating. The vaccination GonaCon was created for whitetail deer and lasts 2 years. Hunters outside the park were asked not to shoot at elk wearing collars, and animals treated with GonaCon wore tags advising hunters not to consume their meat since the vaccine may not have cleared their bodies.

From New West, “I’m always very wary when we try to do Mother Nature’s job better than she does,” says Jenny Powers, a National Park Service wildlife veterinarian and one of three lead scientists who participated in the elk research.


DoubleAA's picture

wolves is not the answer

they need to do some special hunts lottery style, the state, and the park would make a TON of $$$.

they could charge the NR fee for everyone.. that would cover the cost of the ranger that would accompany you and then some. I would pay the NR bull fee to hunt there once. I would pay the cow fee as well.


WishIWasHunting's picture

Anybody who knows anything

Anybody who knows anything about animal health and who has seen these elk can tell you that they are malnourished nearly year round.  The amount of tax dollars they are wasting on this situation is ridiculous.  I realize that it would literally take an act of Congress to allow hunting in Rocky Mountain National Park, but I think if it was presented correctly, I think it could happen.  Make the hunting opportunity temporary at the discretion jointly of CDOW and NPS specifically for herd management.  Only allow hunting at specific times of the day and in certain areas of the park (as not to disturb other park patrons).  Make the majority of the hunt disabled, Veteran, or youth hunters.  Raffle off additional licenses for additional revenue.  All revenue from these hunts would be shared between CDOW and NPS, and the majority of the revenue would have to be spent on habitat improvement (for the other species that have suffered due to the over population of elk) in RMNP.  I hate suggesting a highly bureaucratic and highly regulated hunt, but I think it would be necessary to get enough buy in to make it a possibility.  I also think any kind of hunt by the public is preferably to taxpayer-funded culled hunting, wolf reintroduction, or elk birth-control.

ndemiter's picture

i's easier to controll

i's easier to controll hunters, and we're more efficient!

fertility controll doesn't work well enough, and scientists have proven this in many places, many times.

they need to come to their senses and just let us hunt them! most people would be extremely happy just taking cow elk. we don't need very many bull tags in places like that anyways. the public likes seeing the bulls anyways.

in many other places previously closed to hunting, they have found that regulated hunting is the most effective means of controlling harvest.


and how do you controll wolves???

RayChez's picture

Big mistake to introduce Wolves

Introducing wolves to reduce the elk herds would be insane.  If you want to reduce the herds all you have to do is reduce the cost of a hunting license for local and out of state hunters and your herds would be reduced in a more humane way and also benefit the hunters.  The states that introduced the wolves back are regretting making such a move.  Wolves will kill everything, not only elk, deer, but will hurt the local ranchers by killing their cattle. 

I just can't believe the suggestions made by some of these supposely experts.  It is insane!

leon lamb's picture

hunting the overgrown herd of

hunting the overgrown herd of elk would be far more humane to the animals and would benefit us the hunters as well both in the memories, the meat, and the trophies that are no doubt there!!

cowgal's picture


I can't imagine that wolves would be better than hunting the elk to reduce the numbers. Hunting certainly is much more humane in my opinion. 

I absolutely do not want wolves introduced to Colorado! Not after reading about all the problems and lawsuits in all our neighboring states. Don't need to go there. 

Completely disagree with the comment about Mother Nature doing it better than we can. We've already tinkered with Mother Nature over the years, and simply letting nature take it's course now doesn't always work very well. It would have been more "natural" to continue hunting the elk within the park than completely protecting them. Not allowing some type of management has allowed the herds to grow and literally eat themselves out of "house & home."

hunter25's picture

It's not often we get to read

It's not often we get to read a report like this out west here any more. Between the hard winters the last few years and the overpopulation of wolves in some states the situation is usually the complete opposite. I can't believe they would even think about wolves again with all the problems that have been created in previous reintroduction cases. It would be years after they got out of control before things would change if the past is any example. Then the money spent on the birth control is obviously not working well enough to slow the herd either. I know it will never happen in this situation but controlled hunting within the park is obviously the only logical answer. Hopefully they will figure something out before starvation becomes a factor.

GooseHunter Jr's picture

Of all the ideas they have

Of all the ideas they have had to try and control the elk herd in RMNP this is by far the worst of them all.  What are the chanxces the wolf will move outside the park and start taking down other elk and deer herds.  Then we will be in the same boat with the same problems some of the other western states are having...just a bad idea all around.  Great minds should be able to come up with something better than this.

Gonzok34's picture

Of all the ideas they have

Fish & Game Biologist have extensive management experience in herd population control.  However in many situations their recommendations are ignored by regional politicans in favor of general public opinion that lacks the knowledge to make an intelligent decision.  Wolves are the last thing you want for wildlife management.  They're non-selective in their choice of "What's for Dinner".  The Nat. Park Ser., is environmentalist oriented (Tree Huggers) when it comes to hunting over populated game animals.  You can't hunt pedators, upland game, big game in Nat. Parks - Period.  So thinking that adding wolves will solve the problem creates unlimited unknowns to the situation.  The government  will spent unknown amounts of money to have government contracted hunters to cull game on a limited basis.  $$$$$

What's needed is a change in Federal/State regulations to allow each state to management wildlife based on sound management practices.  One being establishing hunting regulations, qoutas, and seasons.  Within state boundries to include state and national park land.

Starting with anterless, spike bull, and mature bull elk hunts.  You manage the game, the state gains revenue from hunting licenses, firearms. archery, camping equipment, etc.

I'm a Disabled Vietnam Veteran USMC Infantry, 3 tours Combat Action.  Being 65 years young, I doubt logical solutions will ever happen in my lifetime.   Hunting is a valid benefit to game species and everyone involved.  But don't ask my wife, she'd rather die tied to a tree!!