A wolf advocacy group says it plans to sue Rocky Mountain National Park officials over their elk reduction plan. WildEarth Guardians says returning wolves to the park is the best way to control its elk population and that the Park Service needs to take a thorough look at that option.
Last Friday the Park Service's Intermountain regional director, Mike Snyder, signed off on the park's plan to use sharpshooters and birth control methods to reduce the elk herds.
Exactly how many elk are in the park varies throughout the year. While the range of animals in recent years has been pegged at somewhere between 2,200 and 3,100, according to wildlife biologist Therese Johnson, during the past five winters the average count has been between 1,700 and 2,200. The park's objective is to keep the winter population between 1,600 and 2,100.
In a story carried by the Rocky Mountain News, an official with WildGuardians said planting three dozen or so wolves in the park could get the job done. Here's a snippet from the story:
"We need to have enough wolves in the park that they're having an effect on the movement of elk through the landscape," Edward said.
That would mean two or three packs, he said.
A wolf needs 71/2 pounds of meat a day, so each pack likely would take down an elk every three days, Edward said.
Of course, a possible problem with returning wolves to Rocky Mountain is whether they'd stay there or whether they'd roam outside the park and create problems for residents and ranchers in the nearby communities of Granby, Estes Park, Grand Lake, Glen Haven, Allenspark and others.
Wolves from Yellowstone National Park have roamed far and wide since a recovery program started there in 1995. In fact, it's possible that a wolf from Yellowstone already has made it down to Rocky Mountain.
Placing wolves back in Rocky Mountain certainly would be interesting, but the park is barely one-tenth the size of 2.2-million-acre Yellowstone. While wolves no doubt would have an impact on the park's elk numbers, what sort of management dilemma would they create beyond the park boundaries?
"Clearly wolves live at the edge of developed habitat wherever they are here in the western United States at this point," Mr. Edward told me this afternoon. "That's not an excuse for them not to be there. Just as we need wildfire as part of our wild lands, we need wolf predation as part of our wild lands. The consequences of that are that we have healthy ecosystems and we have occasional cattle and sheep depredations, and occasional pets taken. But that's part of living with what fragments of the wild we have left."
WildEarth would also work to see a compensation system created to compensate ranchers who lost livestock to wolves if they were returned to Rocky Mountain, he said.
"We think it's a creative solution. We think that there are probably ways that it can evolve in the future to become more robust and perhaps more equitable," said Mr. Edward.
The group likely will formally file its lawsuit next week, he said.