When is an elk hunt not an elk hunt? When it's a "lethal reduction."
That's how Rocky Mountain National Park officials are proposing they deal with an elk herd that has become too big for the park's landscape.
When Yellowstone National Park officials were faced with a burgeoning elk herd, they addressed the problem in large part by returning wolves to the park. Unfortunately, that's not a very good option for Rocky Mountain, due to nearby urban areas.
However, how well-received will be the park's plan to shoot between 1,000 and 1,3000 elk over the next four years, and then use occasional "lethal reductions" to manage the population size down the road?
Rocky Mountain officials are in a somewhat tough position, as the shooting of more than 1,000 elk will not be popular with everyone. However, the park's present elk herd numbers somewhere between 2,200 and 3,000 animals and spends most of its time inside the park.
Yep. No migration. So, for 12 months a year the elk browse on the park's willow and aspen stands to the detriment not only of those trees but to other wildlife and birds that rely on the vegetation.
The park's draft environmental impact statement on the elk management plan proposes five options, ranging from the "no action" alternative that would leave things just the way they are and the preferred alternative of using lethal reduction to cull the herd to a proposal to bring back a small number of wolves to help get the job done. As written, the plan would guide elk management for 20 years.
Of course, there's always the possibility that Yellowstone wolves could find their way down to the elk buffet in Rocky Mountain on their own. Earlier this year a canid thought to be a wolf was spotted just a little bit northwest of the park.
Beginning next month Rocky Mountain park officials plan to hold a number of public meetings to discuss the plan.