Rocky Mountain National Park begins culling elk herd with marksmen | SkyHiNews.com

Rocky Mountain National Park begins culling elk herd with marksmen

Tonya Bina
tbina@grandcountynews.com
Grand County, Colorado

POOL PHOTO - Volunteer cullers, along with members of the National Park Service, track a group of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park on Wednesday, February 4, 2009. A decision was made to not take a shot at this group and the cullers moved on to another location before killing one elk. (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS/WES POPE)

Members of the media were invited to Rocky Mountain National Park’s east side on Wednesday to witness an activity unprecedented inside the Park’s borders: the shooting of a wild animal.

One cow elk was shot by one of 22 volunteers who are part of Rocky Mountain National Park’s plan to reduce elk populations.

Park officials are stressing the practice does not qualify as “hunting.”

“Hunting is a recreational activity that includes elements of fair chase and personal take of the meat,” Park officials explained in a statement. “Culling is used as a conservation tool to reduce animal populations that have exceeded the carrying capacity of their habitat.”

According to Park officials, concentrated elk populations have become less migratory than they should be, eating themselves out of house and home and damaging habitats on which other wildlife depend.

For this reason, the Park conducted seven years of research followed by four years of planning and public comment to create a management plan that included possible solutions for an unhealthy elk population.

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The plan, made official a year ago , outlines culling, fenced habitats and redistribution of elk. The Park reserves for future years the ability to re-evaluate a reintroduction of wolves or the use of another method: fertility control.

A research project studying fertility control in free-ranging elk took place in 2008, and according to the Park, 20 female elk have been euthanized as part of that project.

Ongoing research will include radio-collaring, helicopter and ground surveys over two years to study elk populations’ winter ranging habits and how those may be changing.

Based on 2007-2008 elk data, Park officials plan to remove 100 elk from grazing populations to reach herd goals.

Staff from the National Park Service, Colorado Division of Wildlife, other authorized agents and qualified volunteers are conducting a “limited cull” of elk this winter.

During the recruitment of volunteer cullers in October, the Park received 100 applications. Of those, as many as 40 gained interviews. The Park then invited 27 finalists to attend a training week in mid-January.

They were not officially selected until passing a background investigation and comprehensive training, park officials said.

Volunteers will not necessarily reap the rewards of their accuracy.

The deadline for entering the Park’s meat disbursement lottery through the Division of Wildlife was Jan. 14. Carcasses that test negative for chronic wasting disease will be doled out to the public through a random lottery system. Out of 5,000 applicants, about 200 names and their alternates were picked.

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.

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