Valley’s elk-herd populations remain higher than management objectives
July 11, 2012
ASPEN – The sizes of two elk herds in the Roaring Fork Valley are larger than Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers prefer, so the agency will consider selling more hunting licenses to reduce the numbers or increase the management goal.
The Avalanche Creek elk herd has been managed since 1988 with an objective of having about 3,300 animals. An estimated 4,450 elk remain in the herd, according to the Parks and Wildlife Department. That herd generally ranges south of Highway 82, from Glenwood Springs to Independence Pass, including the Redstone, Marble and Maroon Bells areas. That comprises game hunting units 43 and 471.
The Fryingpan River herd numbers at about 7,100, Parks and Wildlife estimates. The agency’s objective is 5,100 animals. That herd ranges north of Highway 82, up the Fryingpan Valley and over to Gypsum and Vail. The range comprises game management units 44, 45, 47 and 444.
Parks and Wildlife launched a public process this week to reassess its management plan. Anyone interested in offering opinions can take an online survey. In addition, a public meeting will be held at the Carbondale firehouse from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 24 to discuss management of the Avalanche Creek and Fryingpan River herds.
The management plans are determined based on how many elk an area can support.
“The planning process attempts to balance biological considerations with public preferences,” the agency says in an introduction to the survey. “An appropriate balance is sought and reflected in the elk-herd objectives.
“Annual hunting seasons are designed with the intent of keeping the population at or near the objectives in the final herd-management plan.”
It couldn’t be determined Tuesday why the elk-herd numbers in the Roaring Fork Valley have remained so much higher than the targeted goal over the past 24 years. Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will and terrestrial biologist Julie Mao, of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The survey says a new plan will be adopted for management of the two elk herds for the next 10 years. The agency will consider decreasing the population by 20 percent, maintaining the current population or increasing the population by 20 percent. The increase appears unlikely because it states that would result in degradation of winter range and more unhealthy animals.
Decreasing the herds by 20 percent would reduce competition among animals, possibly increase “calf recruitment” and possibly give the herd greater ability to rebound from severe winters, according to Parks and Wildlife.
If the agency decides to reduce the herd size further, it would require issuing more cow-elk hunting licenses or either-sex licenses. However, eventually the hunting experience in the areas could be degraded.
“Harvest success rates may decrease as fewer elk would be available for harvest and hunters may feel more crowded,” the survey said.
The surveys aren’t just for hunters.