Those who bother elk face fines |

Those who bother elk face fines

Nicole FreyVail correspondent
An elk takes a moment to chew Thursday while grazing in the woods off of U.S. Highway 36 near Estes Park. (Kristin Goode/Longmont Daily Times-Call)

MINTURN – On a starvation diet and approaching her third trimester, this mother is not having a happy pregnancy. And to make matters worse, every once in a while, someone will sneak up on her and chase her around, which stresses her out and wastes the precious energy she’s working to preserve.Such is the plight of almost all cow elk this year, said Bill Andree, a district wildlife manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. The heavy snows have pushed elk down the mountain to where people recreate, and the clash of wildlife and humans is creating a dangerous situation for everyone involved.

The elk are forced to burn calories to get away from humans and people run the risk of getting gored by the critters, said David Van Norman with the U.S. Forest Service.Even though snowshoeing, skiing and other nonmotorized activities are allowed in the elk’s winter range – the area where elk find food and hang out during the winter – if you so much as look crosswise at the elk, the division of wildlife can slap you with a fine for harassing wildlife. According to Andree, as soon as an elk sees a human, its heart rate escalates, which wears on the animal. “When they’re looking at you, you’re taking time away from them feeding,” he said.

So even if you’re not running at the beast brandishing a stick, if the elk see you, you’re harassing them. And if anyone else sees you and an elk in a staring match, you’re may wind up in trouble with wildlife officials. The Eagle County branch of the Forest Service has also been receiving many complaints of people snowmobiling in winter range, especially east of U.S. Highway 24 in Minturn, which is prohibited, Van Norman said. But the loud whine of a snowmobile is less stressful to deer and elk than a quiet cross-country skier. “A snowmobile doesn’t sneak up on them,” Andree said. “And a snowmobile doesn’t look like a human.”

The snowmobile doesn’t register as something the animals ought to fear and the noise lets them know something is coming. In studies testing elks’ heart rates, people taking photos from a car didn’t stress the animals out, but once they stepped out of the car, the elk were spooked, Andree said. If it were up to Andree, all human activity would be banned in winter range during this delicate time for the elk, he said. Van Norman said if elk continue to run into people, the Forest Service may close the area where the conflicts are occurring. It’s a move they made from about 1985 through the early 1990s as the division of wildlife trapped and tagged elk.”We thought we educated people, but the desire to go to more extreme areas is increasing” said Andree, who added better ski and snowboard technology have led to more people to explore deeper into wilderness. “Use common sense,” Andree said. “If the deer and elk are there, find another place to recreate. There are plenty of other places to go without impacting the critters.”