A trail closure sign warns of an aggressive cow elk on the M&H property adjacent to Rita Valentine Park. The mother elk was tranquilized and relocated to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. Her orphaned calf did not survive at a local rehab center.

Photo by Scott Franz

A trail closure sign warns of an aggressive cow elk on the M&H property adjacent to Rita Valentine Park. The mother elk was tranquilized and relocated to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. Her orphaned calf did not survive at a local rehab center.

Parks and rec commissioners call for more enforcement of wildlife closures after death of orphaned elk calf


— After learning this week that an elk calf that was orphaned last month near Rita Valentine Park died at a rehabilitation center, some Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission members are calling for better enforcement of wildlife closures in the city.

Driving some of the commissioners' desires for more enforcement were the reports of some trail users who reportedly disobeyed the wildlife closures in the undeveloped city park and then got into confrontations with the elk calf's aggressive mother.


Hugh Alexander/courtesy

A cow elk fights with two dogs in Rita Valentine Park. The elk has been aggressively protecting her calves that she gave birth to in the park.

Reader poll

Do you think that more enforcement is needed around trail closures due to wildlife?

  • Yes, there should be a volunteer group to help enforce serious wildlife situations 7%
  • Yes, there should be stiffer penalties for people who disobey trail closures 64%
  • No, posting signs should be enough 29%

381 total votes.

Photographs taken by neighbors of the park showed dogs off leash fighting with the mother elk.

Several conflicts with the dogs and people and concerns about people's safety ultimately led wildlife officials to tranquilize the mother elk and take her to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.

Her calf was captured a few days later, but a commissioner said Wednesday night that the calf was not rehabilitated successfully.

The outcome of the unprecedented incident had commissioners asking if anything could have been done differently.

“Nobody did anything wrong. Everybody did exactly as they were told, but there could be a little more enthusiasm to protect the wildlife we are inviting into that kind of environment,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jenette Settle said. “These dogs were not just standing there. They were attacking the elk, and it shouldn't be happening.”

Rita Valentine is an off-leash dog park, but dogs are required to be under voice command at all times.

Settle suggested that the city get together some sort of volunteer group to help enforce trail closures due to aggressive wildlife.

“I would sit in a lawn chair at the start of a trail and tell people it's closed,” Settle said.

Open Space and Trails Supervisor Craig Robinson said wildlife encounters in Steamboat go well beyond just Rita Valentine Park and include moose on the trails near The Sanctuary, bears all across town and mountain lions on Emerald Mountain.

He said that Parks and Recreation staff does not have the authority to enforce trail closures and that people must take personal responsibility when they see wildlife advisories and trail closures.

He added that it would be “challenging at best” for the city or anyone to actively patrol and enforce trail closures.

Commissioners asked about the possibility of using barricades at trail entrances instead of just signs if wildlife poses a danger to people.

Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Director John Overstreet said he would reach out to the city's police and animal control departments and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to discuss how these types of situations could be responded to in the future.

Commissioners also wanted to gauge how other communities respond to these types of wildlife situations.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10


Scott Wedel 2 years, 8 months ago

Solution seems simple enough to me. Just increase the penalties so that no one risks breaking wildlife closures. Shooting a moose is such an expensive fine that hunters worry about shooting a moose.

Considering the costs of having to tranquilize and move them because people are violating wildlife closures, the minimum fine for violating a wildlife closure should be at least $1,000. And for those without the money then let them spend 10 days in jail.

Thus, make the penalties for violating a wildlife closure to be $1,000 or 10 days in jail. That will largely solve enforcement because there won't be many violations. It also tells law enforcement that someone entering a wildlife closure isn't comparable to a parking ticket, but is more like attempted arson. Which is a reasonably comparison, because like arson, violating a wildlife closure requires an expensive government response.


Jenette Settle 2 years, 8 months ago

Taking personal responsibility for a dog's behavior would be the preferable route.

From the Colorado Wildlife statutes:

Summary: These Colorado statutes represent the state's dog laws. There are provisions regarding civil actions against dog owners for dog bites, rabies control, animal control and licensing, and pertinent wildlife regulations, such as a general ban on harassing wildlife and destroying dens or nests.

Title 33. Wildlife and Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Wildlife.

§ 33-3-106. Excessive damage to property--permit to take wildlife--when--harassment by dogs 3) The division may bring a civil action against the owner of any dog inflicting death or injury to any big game and to small game, birds, and mammals for the value of each game animal injured or killed. The minimum value of each animal shall be as set forth in section 33-6-110.

Title 33. Wildlife and Parks and Outdoor Recreation. Wildlife. Article 6. Law Enforcement and Penalties. Part 1. General Provisions. § 33-6-128. Damage or destruction of dens or nests--harassment of wildlife 2) Unless otherwise allowed by commission rule or regulation, it is unlawful for any person to knowingly or negligently allow or direct a dog which he owns or which is under his control to harass wildlife, whether or not the wildlife is actually injured by such dog. Any person who violates this subsection (2) is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of two hundred dollars. 3) A Colorado wildlife officer or other peace officer may capture or kill any dog he or she determines to be harassing wildlife. The provisions of this subsection (3) shall not apply to dogs that are under the direct personal control of a person.


Scott Wedel 2 years, 8 months ago

and that is precisely the problem, the city treated it as a dog not on leash which is not a high priority to enforce.

The cited statutes do not include any penalty for violating a wildlife closure and would have required waiting until the elk calf had died before attempting to bring a rather speculative civil case against the dog owner. The elk were not directly hurt by the dogs.


Larry Desjardin 2 years, 8 months ago

I was at this meeting, and I think the first right steps are being taken. I'm hoping there will now be follow through. I agreed with the closure of Rita Valentine Park for the few weeks the cow elk and calf were here. Living conscientiously and responsibly with wildlife is one of our key values in Steamboat. Unfortunately, we relied on the "honor system" that people would obey the closure and existing leash and control laws. The honor system didn't work, as evidenced by the photo of unleashed dogs attacking the elk next to this column.

I'm a mountain biker. If my favorite trail is closed, I need to go to my next favorite trail. Park closures may be inconvenient, but it is a matter of life or death for the elk. Now a mother elk is traumatized and a bull elk calf is dead - all due to a few selfish individuals who refused to honor the closure signs or leash and control laws.

Let's learn from this, and enforce the laws, including closures. The key issue is for the city to bring a coordinated response to this situation in the future, and to visibly bring in departments who can and will enforce the law. What was allowed to happen is akin to animal cruelty. Let's not allow it to happen again.


Chris Hadlock 2 years, 8 months ago

But, but, but.. ALL Gov't regulation is BAD. Surely citizens and corporations will all do the right thing if we just remove the burden of regulation right?


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