By Christine Peterson
Biologists used to count over 1,000 head of elk from the air near Vail, Colorado. The majestic brown animals, a symbol of the American west, dotted hundreds of square miles of slopes and valleys.
But when researchers flew the same area in February for an annual elk count, they saw only 53.
“Very few elk, not even many tracks,” their notes read. “Lots of backcountry skiing tracks.”
The surprising culprit isn’t expanding fossil-fuel development, herd mismanagement by state agenciesor predators, wildlife managers say. It’s increasing numbers of outdoor recreationists – everything from hikers, mountain bikers and backcountry skiers to Jeep, all-terrain vehicle and motorcycle riders. Researchers are now starting to understand why.
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*One can easily drop this article into the “I Told You So”, category and move on to other things, for in this case the warning signs of an elk herd under pressure have been flashing red for some time. Elk and elk hunting in the Vail and Roaring Fork Valleys, and perhaps many other areas throughout the state of Colorado, may never return to their historical parameters.
We have talked about the issue of declining big game herds quite often at Through A Hunter’s Eyes, although primarily about the worrisome trajectory of the Mule Deer. The loss of an elk herd may be even more concerning, for it clearly defines some serious problems in paradise.
But I think it would be safe to say that very few people had truly predicted the speed and velocity of the decline of this particular local elk herd. I can count myself as one of those.
I can only hope that a solution can be found, and implemented, before it is much too late for an easy turnaround.
The elk, are more than tough, and willing, when given half a chance.
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