Elk Culling Under Way in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sharpshooters in Rocky Mountain National Park were able to get quite close to their quarry Wednesday as elk culling operations continued. Pool photo by Wes Pope, Rocky Mountain News.

Bullets, not wolves, worked on culling the elk herds in Rocky Mountain National Park on Wednesday with sharpshooters taking down one cow.

It wasn't much harder than shooting the livestock variety of cows, either, as the shooters were able to get quite close to a small band of elk before a single shot did the deed.

The need to trim the herds is fairly obvious -- Rocky Mountain, in effect, is being over-grazed by the ungulates, so much so that beaver habitat, for example, has all but vanished across much of the park.

Now, if wolf packs still roamed Rocky Mountain sharpshooters might not be needed to remove about 100 elk this winter. But the natural predators long ago were hunted to oblivion in and around the park, (although there still are suspicions that a wolf or two from the Yellowstone National Park stock might be lurking the mountains in and around Rocky).

And public hunting is not allowed in the park. At least not currently. There are some who thought a public hunt would be one way to control the elk populations in Rocky Mountain. Similar thoughts are receiving attention at Theodore Roosevelt and Wind Cave national parks.

Rocky Mountain officials actually settled back in December 2007 on a 20-year elk control plan that includes an option to resort to culling operations in a bid to control the elk numbers. They're also trying birth control. Depending on natural circumstances, some years might not require culling operations.

Exactly how many elk are in the park varies throughout the year. While the range of animals in recent years in the park sub-population and the Estes Park sub-population has been pegged at somewhere between 2,200 and 3,100, according to park wildlife biologists, during the past five winters the average count has been between 1,700 and 2,200. The park's objective is to keep the combined winter population of the two herds between 1,600 and 2,100.

Evidently Wednesday was the fourth day sharpshooters went into the park, as park officials say they've now culled four elk. Ninety-six to go.

Comments

OK, I'm not a hunter, so maybe someone can enlighten me. Is there a reason they're shooting only one a day? Seems like in that picture if three of those people had rifles there would've been three elk culled that day.

-Kirby.....Lansing, MI

I am a hunter and live about 80 miles from where this story is from. And I am with you it looks like a lot of shooters and a lot of elk, why one a day. If they would let me I would like one to eat this winter. Jim

Kirby and Jim: One possible reason for the one-a-day cull is limited manpower for handling the carcass and butchering. Anybody who has ever tried to field dress, transport, and butcher one of these huge animals knows what a big job that is. I'd guess that there could also be limited facilities for handling the meat during and after processing. Just some thoughts.

Jim,
I am not sure if you still can but, there is a place where you can put your name in and they draw out as many names as elk shot. If your name is drawn you get the meat. I am sure if you just google it you will find something on it.