Elk populations reviewed

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Hunters in Northwest Colorado who take for granted being able to buy an over-the-counter cow-elk license might want to pay attention to a series of meetings planned for early August.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife will solicit comments about its plans to set future elk population objectives for this part of the state. The Routt County meeting is at 7 p.m. Aug. 2 at the DOW office, 925 Weiss Drive in Steamboat Springs.

DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said it's possible that, in the near future, hunters may not find some kinds of elk licenses as readily available as they once were. Over-the counter cow licenses, for example, have been an important tool in the effort to reduce elk herds around Steamboat, Craig and Meeker. Officials want to reduce herd sizes to numbers the habitat can support for the long term.

Population objectives for elk are driven by biology. However, Hampton said his agency also takes into consideration the opinions of rural property owners, business communities and hunters.

"This is where we're going to set our objective numbers and determine how many elk the people believe we can support up there," Hampton said. "We are not going into this with a set number."

The DOW put off the meetings for several years to allow time to gauge the effect of chronic wasting disease on elk herds, Hampton said. Typically, the targets are adjusted every five years.

Next month's meetings will focus on two elk herds in what has been one of the most productive elk-hunting areas in the state, Hampton said. Of the record 65,000 elk harvested in Colorado last year, one-third came from the two herds in this area. They formally are known as data analysis units E2 and E6. The Bears Ears herd occupies the area from the Wyoming border south to U.S. Highway 40 between Steamboat and Craig. The White River herd ranges south of U.S. 40 in an area bounded by Meeker, Rifle and Glenwood Springs.

Combined, the herds totaled about 58,000 elk after last season's hunt.

The larger White River herd, whose range includes South Routt County, was at 41,000 elk after the hunting season. Officials would like to see that number reduced to 28,500 during the next three or more years, Hampton said.

The Bears Ears herd has about 16,700 animals -- much closer to the DOW's target number of 12,200, Hampton said. It could attain that goal within two years.

"Years ago, we had a lot of elk up there," Hampton said. "We wondered if we'd ever be able to dent that population."

Now, the time to begin applying the brakes to herd reduction may be approaching.

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