February 2, 2023

DOW Commissioner Tells Rocky Mountain National Park Super, He's Got "Hell Of A Problem"

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Everyone agrees there are too many elk in the Rocky Mountain National Park and consequently those elk spill over into Estes Park, Colorado, where residents there find it common place to spot elk with Christmas lights, bicycles and lawn chairs hanging off their neck and heads. What isn’t agreed upon is what to do about it.

As time marches on, it may becoming clear wherein lies the problem. Last year officials of the RMNP announced they had a plan to reduce the number of elk. They were going to use park staff and hire a few “sharpshooters”, equip them with silencers, prowl around at night and kill a few thousand of them over 20 years costing taxpayers around $18 million.

Many have suggested that closing the park for a handful of days each year and let hunters pay for the privilege to hunt the elk would an effective method and wouldn’t cost the taxpayers much money, if any at all.

Back in July, the Colorado Division of Wildlife Commission recommended that the park use hunters and the expertise and experience of the DOW to manage the elk herd. This wasn’t met with much enthusiasm by park officials.

Yesterday, the DOW Commission held their regular meeting to discuss what to do about the elk situation in Estes Park. The meeting was attended by Vaughn Baker, RMNP superintendent, who sat in on the meeting to hear suggestions and proposals by the commission. It was at this meeting that commissioner Rick Enstrom gave Baker a piece of his mind.

“You and the Division of Wildlife have a hell of a problem” with the elk population, thundered Rick Enstrom, an eight-year wildlife commissioner attending his final meeting. Enstrom was barking at Rocky Mountain National Park superintendent Vaughn Baker, who sat in a lonesome chair before a U-shaped set of tables filled with Colorado wildlife officials.

“I can’t understand why you’re not willing to use the Division of Wildlife,” he said. “We’re very frustrated.”

Park officials and other animal rights protectors keep attempting to drum the lie into the public that it is a federal law to hunt in National Parks. Although the RMNP may not permit hunting anywhere inside the boundaries, there are several instances where hunting has been allowed in national parks, for situations similar to this one. It is my understanding that the park superintendent does not have the authority of allow hunting in this case. It has to be done at the federal level but it certainly is an achievable goal.

It simply makes no sense to me why Baker is willing to spend $18 million of taxpayers money to achieve a goal that can be accomplished by hunters for next to nothing. As a matter of fact, some have surmised the park could turn a profit and put the money back into improving the elk habit within the park.

There are some 3 million visitors to RMNP each year and certainly, to close the park, if it’s even necessary, for 3 or 4 days a season, would be a very small imposition to ask of anybody.

Because of Baker’s balking on this issue, one begins to wonder who owns him or whether or not he is allowing his own personal agendas to influence his management of the park. We know that he is under the gun from animal rights groups, in particular Sinapu, a group that wants wolves reintroduced to Colorado and specifically into RMNP. In response to the meeting yesterday of the DOW Commission and their offer to help RMNP deal with the elk problem and manage the game, Sinapu, a group whose function is to restore wolves, posted a blog on one of their websites.

This is the latest installment in the soap opera playing out as the Park Service tries to deal with the ecological effects of not having wolves in the system to help keep the elk moving around. Notably, the very problem that Rocky Mountain National Park is trying to solve (the decline of aspen and willow because of too much browsing pressure by lazy elk) has been dramatically solved in Yellowstone in less than a decade. The solution: restore wolves to the Park.

What a totally absurd idea! Look at the mess that Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and parts of neighboring states are in now dealing with the much predicted problems of the reintroduction of wolves. And with the track records of these groups, we have learned that some is never enough. Even when wolf numbers have exceeded restoration goals by as much as 1000%, they still fight to protect the wolf at the expense of other wildlife and livestock growers all across the west, even human safety in some cases.

Under no circumstances should Colorado or the RNMP consider bringing wolves into this mix. There are too many elk in this area because they have gone unmanaged. Now it is time to do something about it. The intelligent thing to do is to insert some common sense into this equation and demand that the park be closed for a short length of time once during the season and let hunters pay for the privilege to stock their freezers.

As the old saying goes, Mr. Baker needs to lead, follow or get out of the way.

Tom Remington