Thursday, September 1, 2005
Hunters in Northwest Colorado who take the opportunity to buy an over-the-counter cow elk license for granted might want to pay careful attention to a process unfolding at the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
In August, the DOW held a series of meetings in Northwest Colorado cities, Steamboat Springs among them, to discuss future elk population targets in two large herds that are important to hunter success ratios.
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 a determined effort to reduce elk herds in the vicinity of Steamboat Springs, Craig and Meeker. The intent is to bring the overall herd sizes more in line with 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 has been putting off the meetings for several years to allow time to gauge the impact of chronic wasting disease on elk herds, Hampton said. Typically, the targets are adjusted every five years.
The process of setting new population goals concern 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 in 2004, one-third came from the two herds in this area. They are known formally as Data Analysis Units E2 and E6.
The Bears Ears herd occupies DAU E2 from the Wyoming line south to U.S. Highway 40 between Steamboat and Craig. The White River herd is in DAU E6, stretching south of U.S. 40 in an area bounded by Meeker, Rifle and Glenwood Springs.
Combined, they totaled almost 58,000 elk after last season's hunt.
The larger of the two is E6, which totaled 41,000 post-hunt elk. The DOW wants to reduce that herd to about 28,500 within the next three years or so, Hampton said. The herd's size peaked at about 53,000 animals in 2000.
DAU E2 is made up of a smaller herd of about 16,700 animals and should reach the DOW's goal of 12,200 animals within one or two years, Hampton said. The population was as high as 28,000 elk in the late 1990s.
The DOW must try to strike a balance among competing interests, Hampton said. Some of them want to see larger elk herds. Others want to see smaller herds.
"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.