By Kristine Newkirk
In response to those who see no harm in what they view as idyllic, grazing elk pacifically eating their mums, I say it is time to recognize the very real harm we are inflicting on the elk population in our area if we take no action to manage the herds. The ecology in Evergreen is out of balance. Closer human and herd interaction is creating a breeding ground for aggressive elk behavior that puts people in harm’s way. The health of the elk population is also at risk as larger herds become more susceptible to the spread of disease.
Our detrimental impact on the elk demands that we support balanced steps to manage herds in a way that optimizes the health of those herds and the safety of local residents. To that end, the Colorado Division of Wildlife is taking action. Beginning in September, the DOW began placing radio collars and ear tags on 17 bull and cow elk in a 75-square-mile radius around Evergreen to identify migration patterns.
The five-year study is likely to confirm that elk are concentrating in more densely populated areas that are free from hunting and predation, which is problematic given their more aggressive tendencies toward people. The study will assist the DOW in elk management efforts going forward.
The experience of residents in the city of Banff in Alberta, Canada, demonstrates the positive effects of wildlife management. Elk attacks against people in Banff hit a high of 106 in 1999. Town residents took action to support the reduction in the number of elk in and around the town. The reduction in numbers encouraged renewed migration patterns, and herds became more wary of humans. By 2003, disease within the herds had diminished and the number of elk attacks was down to seven.
The growing ecological imbalance is resulting in more threats and attacks in the Evergreen area, such as the Troutdale woman gored by an elk last year while exiting her car. Every member of my family has been threatened or charged by elk in the past year — while getting off the school bus, fly-fishing, and walking the golf course.
Delivering the message that aggressive elk aren’t welcome is done through wildlife management efforts, such as culling herds, cutting back antlers, manipulating vegetation and forced relocation. As distasteful as some of these techniques may be to some residents, they are necessary due to human encroachment on wildlife habitats.
We are a part of the problem, so we must be willing to manage the solution. We can help inform wildlife management decisions by reporting elk attacks and encounters with aggressive elk immediately to the DOW at 303-291-7227. With first-hand data, the DOW will be better able to track encounters and identify trends to improve management efforts. We can also become better educated about wildlife management options and efforts under way for the health of the wildlife we enjoy, and our own.
Questions about the DOW’s ongoing study or elk management practices in Evergreen can be directed to Jennifer Churchill, the DOW’s public information officer for the northeast region, at 303-291-7234, or e-mail her at Jennifer.email@example.com.
Kristine Newkirk is a three-year resident of Evergreen.