Proposed Changes to San Luis Valley Elk Management
A rapidly growing elk herd on the east side of the San Luis Valley has prompted the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) to consider changes in how it manages elk in the Valley.
The DOW manages big game animals based on geographical areas that are broken down into Data Analysis Units (DAUs). A DAU is an area where one herd of animals resides year round and the movement of animals into neighboring units is limited. A large DAU is commonly subdivided into two or more Game Management Units (GMUs) to facilitate better management of the animals.
A public meeting was held in Center on Dec. 7, 2004, to present some preliminary proposals to deal with potential problems of elk causing crop damage. Those preliminary proposals included creating a new DAU that encompassed the area contained by highways U.S. 285, U.S. 160 and Colorado Highway 17. This area of land contains the majority of the crop circles in the San Luis Valley and is easily identifiable.
Proposed management plans for the new DAU included the following: Hunting bull elk during the summer growing months to discourage congregations of elk on farms; protecting female elk with dependent young by not beginning hunting of antlerless elk until Aug. 15 (these would be the only licenses valid in the DAU); provide authority for the local area wildlife manager to issue hunting licenses; and adopt a population objective of zero within the boundaries of the new DAU.
Citizens who attended the meeting supported the need to address the potential problem. There were, however, differences in how to do it. There was no opposition to conducting the early bull season. Some agreed with the “two season only” approach, while others preferred that over-the-counter hunting licenses also be valid in the DAU
Over the last decade, elk on the west side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains north of U.S. 160 have increased to a point where the total number of elk exceeds the herd objectives set by the DOW. Currently, the DOW sets the objective for the total number of elk in GMU 82 at 1,500 animals, but the actual population is closer to 5,000. This population growth has occurred in large part due to a lack of access for hunters because the elk find refuge on large pieces of property in and around the Baca Grande and Great Sand Dunes National Park properties.
The DOW is concerned about the fact that these elk are beginning to spill over into areas west of Colorado Highway 17. Elk moving onto the fertile lands on the valley floor create a potential for extensive damage to agricultural crops
The DOW is liable for damage to raw agricultural products caused by big game animals. If left unchecked, the cost of damage caused by elk on the valley floor could put a strain on the DOW’s ability to fund other wildlife programs.
High value crops such as seed potatoes present the highest potential for large claims. One claim that could easily top $2 million would exceed the entire annual budget for game damage payments for the entire state.
To protect the financial integrity of its many wildlife programs, the DOW has begun a process to address the potential for crop damage claims.
The proposals the DOW will take to the Colorado Wildlife Commission in January include three issues, including: Create two new GMUs that would form a new DAU; Create an Aug. 15 to Dec. 31 private land antlerless elk special season where licenses would be issued by voucher; and authorize the Monte Vista area wildlife manager to issue game damage dispersal licenses valid on state wildlife areas to prevent a refuge situation on those properties.
Landowners would have the right to say who may access their property and who may not, but the DOW hopes the “antlerless only” season removes incentive for landowners to harbor big bulls on their property. Landowners who charge more than $100 to hunt on their land forfeit their right to apply for game damage payments.
These proposals are designed to prevent damage and to protect public interests by preserving funds for wildlife programs. Most elk leave the agricultural areas once hunting pressure begins. The probability is the elk will move back to the east side of Colorado 17 when hunting pressure builds.
These proposals set the stage for game damage management that protects sportsmen’s dollars so that they may be used for programs that benefit the people of the state and wildlife.
The DOW is working cooperatively with the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy who own properties that currently provide refuge for the burgeoning elk population to address the over population of elk in GMU 82.
The DOW is seeking input from the public regarding these proposals.
Written comments received before the January Commission meeting will be distributed to each commissioner and appropriate staff before the meeting. Comments can be mailed to: Colorado Wildlife Commission, c/o Human Dimensions Unit, DOW, 6060 Broadway, Denver, CO 80216. You may also e-mail your comments directly to: email@example.com.