Wolf Advocates Plan to Sue Rocky Mountain Park Officials Over Elk Plan

A wolf advocacy group plans to sue Rocky Mountain National Park for not seriously considering wolves as a solution to the park's elk populations. NPS photo.

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.

Comments

The wolf solution will just cause the Parks to face the task of culling the wolves later on. I dont think thats going to make anyone happy. Having some wolves is ok but you cannot create a balanced eco sysytem in a bottle. Suing the Parks is a waste of Parks resources. If people are suing over the elk they will be suing over the wolves next. The numbers will build up.

I agree with JoeSF, why add to the existing problem? Why move wolves in? Why not move some Elk out? I lived in a remote part of Idaho for a few years and the Elk population was quite large. I personally had a herd of more than 100 that would winter in my front yard. Sometime in 1995 someone who had probably never been to this area of Idaho thought it would be a good idea to drop 25 or so wolves in to this area, not to cull the herd, only because there were no wolves in the area. When I left Idaho there were approximately 150. I don't know if these suit and tie people who come up with these ideas have ever had to live with wolves outside their front door, but I wish they would and maybe they would not be so fast to change the way things are in these places. Move 'em out, don't move 'em in. On a side note, I did witness the dropping of a Grizzly Bear in that same area of Idaho after a huge fight over wheather or not the bears should be introduced to the area. They were not there to begin with and should not be put there just because! I'm going to stop now before this comment becomes a novel! Thank You.

Just an update to my previous comment. In 1995 66 gray wolves were reintroduced to central Idaho and Yellowstone Nat. Park. Today those wolves number more than 1200! More than 700 in Idaho. I'm sure if you checked the Elk population it would be down dramatically. After a phone call to a friend where I used to live, the Elk herd that wintered on my property are no longer there and the wolf sightings are happening more and more. So again I say MOVE THE ELK OUT and DON'T MOVE THE WOLVES IN! Don't get me wrong, besides my dogs , my favorite animal is the WOLF, a beautiful and interesting animal. Thank You for this site. The articles are wonderful and informative.

I don't understand the problem with bringing back the natural order of things and having the wolves come back? The elk need to be culled because their natural predators have been decimated. Are wolves threatening to humans? How many deaths have wolves caused since they've been reintroduced? I haven't heard of one death, but then again I don't try to read Idaho or Wyoming newspapers for such news.

Following up on wolf deaths, there is a (partial, I'm sure) list of confirmed deaths by wolves on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_attacks_on_humans

If this is correct, there has been 1 death in all of North America in the past 10 years. By comparison, in 2006 there were 174 deaths in the United States alone caused by West Nile virus.

Wow! I've looked at alot of different sites about the Wolves and Elk in Colorado, Idaho,Wyoming and Montana. I can admit when I'm wrong. Elk populations are not being decimated by wolves, depending on who you talk to. There are many reasons such as fire, disease etc... I guess what I would like to know is... what happened to the wolves in Rocky Mountain Nat. Park before? Were they hunted out? Did they move to different places? What originally happened to them? If it was because of natural reasons, leave it alone. If it was because of human reasons, make it right. Where do the wolves they want to introduce to RMNP come from? Are they captured from another state and moved? This whole thing is crazy to me. What it all boils down to (for me) is Why move the Wolves in to the Park if they are not (or very little) preying on the Elk to begin with? Maybe just relocate the Elk? I don't think Sharpshooters or BIRTH CONTOL is the answer, nor do I think wolves are the answer. From what I've read recently wolves are not going to thin out the Elk, the Elk will thin themselves out as they have in Idaho for example. Thanks for the commentary on this subject. P.S. I was not talking about Wolves killing humans, it was about killing off Elk which I was somewhat wrong about. They do not kill enough Elk to Decimate whole herds.

These are all good comments. I'm no expert so I read them to learn more about the situation. An excess of ANYTHING is not good. I wonder if we bring in wolves because there are too many elk, what will happen when we have too many wolves? We have to approach this intelligently, with the best interests of our wildlife heritage at the top of our priority list.