Group sues federal government over elk-culling plan at Colorado park |

Group sues federal government over elk-culling plan at Colorado park

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” An environmental group is suing the federal government because it says releasing wolves wasn’t seriously considered as a solution to reducing the elk herd in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Denver by WildEarth Guardians, with help from the University of Denver law school, names the National Park Service.

The lawsuit claims the agencies ignored scientific evidence showing that returning wolves to Yellowstone National Park and other areas has improved the ecosystem by reducing elk and overgrazing of vegetation.

WildEarth Guardians, formerly the Boulder-based Sinapu, also contends the Park Service is obligated to further the conservation of endangered species. Wolves were native to Colorado but were eliminated from the state by the 1930s after ranchers, government agents and others shot, trapped and poisoned the predator.

Park officials didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

“The Park Service should accept that their elk problem stems directly from a lack of wolves in the region,” said Rob Edward of WildEarth Guardians. “It’s time to restore the balance of nature in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The plan approved for culling the elk herd in Rocky Mountain National Park about 70 miles northwest of Denver calls for sharpshooters to kill up to 200 elk annually over 20 years. The number killed each year will depend on the herd’s size, which fluctuates.

The herd, safe from hunters and most predators, has grown up to 3,000 elk. The goal is to have about 1,200 to 1,700 elk.

Overgrazing by the herd has nearly wiped out aspens and willows, prime habitat for beavers and birds. Elk also roam through the yards and gardens of homes outside the park, increasing chances for conflicts with people.

North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park faces a similar dilemma, where the public is pressuring park managers to enlist hunters rather than taxpayer-funded shooters to reduce the elk herd.

The preliminary plan for Rocky Mountain National Park said wolves would best meet environmental objectives and do the least damage, but didn’t recommend that option.

Releasing wolves in the park would require separate federal plans and approval.