June 3, 2023

Proposed Colorado Elk Slaughter a Repeat of Yellowstone

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There is a parable that has been around for many years that goes something like this:

I walk down the street. I see a hole. I fall into it. The next day I walk down the same street and see the same hole and I fall into it. On the third day, I walked down the same street, see the same hole and try to jump over. I fall in. On the fourth day, I walked down the street, saw the whole, tried to go around it. I fell in. On the fifth day, I took a different street.

Humans are creatures of habit and often we have to travel down the same pot-hole-littered street and encounter all sorts of problems before we learn how to navigate safely. Why can’t National Park authorities remember what happened in Yellowstone back in the 1960s and take a different street? Have all the participants from that era died off? Was history not recorded?

Back then, the elk herd in the Yellowstone National Park had grown too big, just like the herd in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. With national attention, by 1960s standards, people were disgusted and outraged as they watched as park personnel systematically slaughtered the elk. It was a disaster for the park service and after much protesting, the killings stopped in 1967.

The elk continued to grow in numbers eating up everything in its path, until two things happened. The grizzly bears began to multiply in this same area and wolves were re-introduced to the park. The mortality rate of the elk went up and the numbers came down. Now there are too many wolves and in areas the elk herd is getting too small. One problem has replaced another.

I walk down the street and I see a hole. Several years later, the same National Parks System has the same problem brewing in Rocky Mountain National Park – too many elk. The same park pesonnel have put together five proposals in a plan to manage the elk and bring the numbers down. Guess what’s included in this plan?

One plan, which park officials declared as their preferred method is to send park personnel out into the woods, at night, with silencers on their rifles and slaughter hundreds, even thousands of these creatures over the next few years. Evidently they believe that by stealth of darkness and with silencers equipped, the public won’t see or hear what they are doing.

There are variations in the five proposals but in essence all five proposals involve some amount of slaughter and/or the introduction of wolves. I walk down the street…….

It doesn’t matter what the park service does, other than to do nothing, which is an option proposed in their management plan, they are fighting a winless battle as far as keeping people happy.

Animal rights groups will come out in droves to protest the killing of the animals. Environmentalists will be demanding that wolves be brought back and the millions of hunters in America will be saying what they have always said – hunting is cheap, safe and the only effective way to management wildlife.

It is my belief that this will end up being a much larger controversy than the Yellowstone debacle of the sixties. What will make it different is today we have more resources to gather information quickly and saturate the media outlets, including radio, TV, newspapers and the Internet, plus there are more groups on all sides of these kinds of issues.

Not included as a viable option for reducing the elk herd in RMNP is hunting. Is this such a bad idea? Think about it for a minute. There are millions of visitors each year to the park. Couldn’t the park be closed for let’s say one week each year while hunters do their thing? Would that be such a huge imposition? It could be done in the late fall after the real busy season has ended.

It would cost the National Park Service essentially nothing and would actually provide a revenue as hunters are willing to pay for the opportunity to bag and eat elk. The money could be used to improve habitat and other good elk management needs. Is opening the park to hunting for one week as inhumane as killing them at night or knowing that wolves are going to destroy baby calves to reduce numbers?

A precendent has already been established when it comes to allowing hunting in National Parks. The Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming allows hunting elk in a portion of that park. In 1950 the park was enlarged and as part of a complicated compromise between the federal government and the state of Wyoming, hunting was allowed in the park east of the snake river.

As I understand it, there are four parts to the park and in three of those sections, the elk population is mostly stable. It is the area just north of Jackson Hole that has a runaway elk population. It also is part of the area where hunting isn’t allowed and wolves have had very little impact on the herd.

There are problems that exist with the hunting and I’m not sure what is being done to remedy it. The major problem there has to do with how the zones were set up that allow hunting and not allow hunting. With this boundary that was created it has established what is known locally as “the firing line”. Hunters have set up shop, if you will, to shoot the elk as they migrate from one zone to the other before the elk cross into the “safe zone”. Everything has its problems and I’m sure this one can and will be worked out eventually.

The park service is alone no matter which of the five options they have decided to implement. They have intentionally left off what I believe to be the best viable option to cure their problem – hunting. Imagine the support they would receive from the millions of hunters should they make the right move and solve the elk problem with hunters. They certainly wouldn’t be alone any longer.

The proposal is just making its way out into the public and is sure to become a hot issue and receive a lot of attention before it is done. We’ll continue to follow the story.

If you think that the NPS hasn’t already made up its mind and you want to let the powers that be know your thoughts on this topic, send an email to: romo_superintendent@nps.gov

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