Steamboat Springs All hail the mighty elk hunters who may have harvested the most elk ever in Colorado. But don't forget to hail the fact that there are a kagillion elk out there, too.
In retrospect, going back 100 years, the current large elk population that allowed the good harvest is a serious comeback from a time when the herds were nearly wiped out in Colorado.
Recently, the Colorado Division of Wildlife reported that the 2000 elk hunt was possibly the most successful harvest ever. Officials estimated that 60,000 elk were taken, busting the previous record of 54,000, set in 1996. The success rate was up, too, at 24 percent, outdoing the 1999 success rate of 17 percent.
Plus, the number of hunters went up from about 240,000 in 1999 to 247,000 in 2000.
In an even more dramatic increase, in 1990 193,000 hunters were in the field.
"Imagine increasing that much in 10 years," DOW spokesman Todd Malmsbury said Friday.
The most current numbers from the DOW show 265,000 in Colorado during 1999, a great deal more than the objective of 189,000. That makes elk populations in Colorado the largest in the lower 48 states and Canada.
Locally, populations south and southwest of Steamboat Springs are estimated to be 3,500, which is 500 more than the objective. North and northeast of Steamboat, officials counted 19,000 animals, a staggering 6,800 over the objective in that area.
Though over objectives, current numbers could be closer to what original elk populations were at before man stuck his finger into the soup, topping off a 100-year comeback for the species.
Malmsbury explained that 100 years ago, state officials estimated Colorado to be home to 1,000 elk.
How could a state, when at that time was only sparsely populated in elk habitat, could have supported only 1,000 elk? Malmsbury said the market for elk meat in the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century was huge so big, in fact, a whole industry had formed that supported hunters going into the field, killing elk at will and selling the meat to miners for a healthy profit. The aggressive practices in the High Country of harvesting elk meat eventually led to the animal to nearly become extinct.
To give the elk a chance, starting in the early 20th century, a 23-year moratorium was put on elk hunting, Malmsbury said.
Since then, through peaks and troughs of the population, the elk herd has grown to enable hunters to have a record year of harvests on one of the largest recorded elk populations in the state.