With memories of last winter's record snowfall and its impact on the local elk population still fresh in the minds of Steamboat Springs residents, local Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff along with a US Forest Service biologist, will offer the 2011 Elk Winter Symposium. The event is an opportunity for education and discussion about the effects winter can have on elk.
Scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 20, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, the symposium is open to anyone who would like to learn more about winter's impact on elk populations, and what the public can do to ensure elk have the best chance of survival.
"Last winter, due to the deep snow and difficult conditions, we had elk move into town and many people saw firsthand the impact an especially harsh winter can have on wildlife," said Danielle Domson, District Wildlife Manager for the Steamboat Springs South District. "The situation caused some concern, but we want to explain to everyone that what they saw was actually a natural part of an elk's life cycle.
Although feeding elk during rough winters may seem like an obvious solution to prevent starvation, wildlife managers remind people that the long-term effects on the entire population is of primary concern and artificial feeding can lead to serious problems, including increasing the risk of spreading disease or disturbing the natural herd distribution.
Domson said she received numerous appeals from citizens urging managers take action to feed starving elk. She says that she understands that the citizens' concern was the well-being of the animals, but after careful consideration, wildlife managers decided that not interfering with natural processes was the most biologically-sound solution.
"Unfortunately, we had people who took matters into their own hands and began feeding the elk themselves," explained Domson. "They meant well, but they violated the law and they put the larger herd at risk."
Area Wildlife Manager Jim Haskins says he understands the reaction many people had as they watched elk - many of them calves - succumb to the elements. However, he stresses that saving a few individual animals at the expense of a larger population is not responsible wildlife management.
"We certainly are concerned when any animal suffers, but we also need to look at the bigger picture, and I hope this symposium will help people understand that there are broader considerations," continued Haskins.
Among the various topics, wildlife managers will also offer advice regarding the things people can do to help elk survive the winter, such as the importance of staying out of areas under elk winter closures, and the progress of recent habitat improvements projects funded by Colorado Parks and Wildlife's Habitat Partnership Program.
"Our research has shown that landscape-scale habitat improvement is one of the most effective ways to increase survival, and we want people to learn about these projects," continued Domson.
The symposium is open to the public and everyone will have the opportunity to directly ask questions about the various issues and concerns, including damage caused by elk during last year's winter.
Who: Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the US Forest Service
What: 2011 Elk Winter Symposium
When: Thursday, Oct. 20, from 6 to 9 p.m.
Where: Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1605 Lincoln Ave., Steamboat Springs
Contact: Colorado Parks and Wildlife Steamboat Springs Office - 970-870-2197