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Should Rocky Mountain National Park Utilize Shooting to Control the Elk Population?
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Should Rocky Mountain National Park Utilize Shooting to Control the Elk Population?

With only a few predators remaining in the Rocky Mountain National Park, there is now an over abundance of elk. According to park officials, the Elk have overgrazed the vegetation leaving other park animals without proper food. The park believes that the grazing has led to a lack of natural habitat sources for some park wildlife.

A recent Associated Press news article by Dan Elliott out of Boulder, Colorado states that The National Park Service has decided against utilizing wolves to control the elk population in the Rocky Mountain National Park. The National Park Service has decided to request that park employees shoot the excess elk. Trained volunteers have been enlisted to assist the employees with the culling process. The park has erected fences to protect the vegetation in some areas of the park.

WildEarth Guardians, a wildlife advocacy group took the case to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after a Denver federal judge ruled against WildEarth in 2008. The case was heard at the University of Colorado Law School as part of an outreach program. The advocacy group believes that wolves were a natural option compared to hunting the elk. A spokesperson for the group stated that the public was not given a chance to voice an opinion concerning culling the elk by allowing hunting in a national park. WildEarth argued that allowing volunteers to shoot elk was equivalent to hunting.

In 1995, wolves were reintroduced successfully at Yellowstone National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park officials believe that introducing wolves into the park to control the elk population would pose a safety hazard to park visitors and nearby citizens. Officials predicted the wolves would require a great deal of attention from park employees.

Park employees estimate the elk population to be between 600-800 in the lower elevations. No elk were shot during the winter of 2011 as park officials believe the numbers were in an acceptable range. 131 elk have been shot during the culling process since 2008.

What do you think? Do you believe that park officials made the correct decision in 2008 to require park employees to cull the elk population via hunting? How do you feel about the park enlisting the assistance of trained volunteers to shoot elk in the culling process? Do you believe the park should consider reintroducing wolves into the park? Please feel free to add your comments below.

Royalty-free photo courtesy of youwall.com.

Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)

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  1. Veganara
    Veganara
    Voted. A thought-provoking blog; it does sound like quite a big dilemma! Although I am pro-life and hate the idea of killing anything, sometimes human intervention may be necessary if one species is disrupting the ecosystem and causing hardship to other species. A friend of mine campaigns tirelessly against the annual deer cull in Richmond Park in London; the park officials claim that the cull is necessary as the deer population get out of control, just like the elk you write about. However they make quite a big profit on selling the venison from the cull, so their motives are not exactly pure! my friend Lesley is campaigning to have some kind of birth control for deer introduced, a form of contraceptive pill or injection, if that could be arranged. I think that is a good solution, and I believe they do that in some parks in America, I don't know if you are aware of that. Btw, I have just posted a new recipe for Ribbon Pasta which you may like, so please check that out when you have time! :-)
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    1. Carolyn
      Carolyn
      Yes, that would probably work on animals being introduced, such as the wolves if they decided to go that route. I do not know that they could put the contraceptive in the food source as they graze. Is your friend, Lesley thinking that park officials might could shoot the animals with a contraceptive injection, like a tranquilizer gun? Thanks for the vote!
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      1. Lesley Dove
        The contraceptive for wildlife is licensed in the US but not yet in the UK. I am now campaigning for it to be licensed by the govt dept DEFRA so as to be a possible choice for the Royal Parks in London to use on their deer in place of culling. There is always a non-lethal solution. One of the contraceptives is called Gonacon and already being used with success in Maryland on white-tailed deer, so this is not a new idea or pie in the sky as you will see if you google it and read up about it. It works on many different species too. I think it is better given individually to an animal by injection rather than in food as that way you can be sure which ones are being dosed and dosed correctly. With food some will get too much and some get too little and maybe not so safe or reliable. They could mark them somehow with a small amount of dye on the side of their body when they do the injection to show which had been done already so none get overdosed. It's really not likely much more difficult than killing, and they only need to do a certain proportion of the females to keep the birth rates down, no need to even bother with males. Please sign my petition of you agree, thanks! http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/defra-defra-please-license-wildlife-contraception-in-the-uk-eg-gonacon
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  2. kristo
    kristo
    voted! this is very upsetting, and the introduction of another species such as the wolves can also be a catastrophe! It is only a matter of time before the wolves will be hunted because of over population :(
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    1. Carolyn
      Carolyn
      Thanks for the vote! You have a very good point about the wolf population!
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  3. SnakeWitch
    This park obviously has quite a dilemma. I don't think there is only one viable solution. First, since this is a state controlled park, it is very difficutl to call this a 'natural environment' for animals. They're not like zoos, but still, the animals here can get out of control. Many things can be arranged. One, wolves aren't the danger everybody thinks they are. They historically have rarely ever harmed humans as they attack only the weak animals of any species. They are far from fast runners, and they believe in hunting only for food, so keep their hunting to 'cleanse' the population of animals they are sourcing for prey. I don't think the park wants to tkeep them out because of any possible danger caused by these otherwise misunderstood and kind animals. I think that it's for the money they could make from the sales of meat and leather. Two, why not take some of the elk out of the park and send them to other wild, natural habitats where there isn't an overpopulation? Yes, this may take some time, but between that and watching them getting killed unnecessarily, I prefer encouraging the park staff to find them a new home. Three, the idea of a contraceptive doesn't sound too bad to me either... as long as they find a safe and not too complex way to get it to them. I wonder if castration is possible? I don't like interfering with the natural cycle of life, but if this is the way to go, well... so be it. Four, there may be other things that they need to think about. When they reduce the elk population, will that have an effect elsewhere? Every time humans play around with nature, there are several things to watch out for. Vegetation growth may change, other species may change... The cycle of life in nature is incredible delicate... All this to say that I don't fully disagree with intervening, but it has to be done with a lot of research put into it prior to taking action.
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    1. Carolyn
      Carolyn
      Thanks Annie! You made several good points concerning human intervention, the nature of wolves and transferring some of the elk to other parks. Thanks again, for the comment and the vote!
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      1. Veganara
        Veganara
        Yes, Annie/SnakeWitch does make some excellent points. It's true that a park is not an entirely "natural" environment, so this may be one reason for population imbalances. Also, I like the idea of moving some of the elk out and rehoming them somewhere else, if that is at all logistically viable. I don't know how contraception would work for deer/elk Carolyn: I am confused as to how they would administer it to them! Unless by shooting them with hormone darts, as you say. I will try to get Lesley to comment on this post and tell you what she knows (she has already signed up to TFV anyway, as she has quite often voted on my blogs!)
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        1. Carolyn
          Carolyn
          Veganara, I have no idea how the contraceptive methods would work. I was questioning the method also and suggested that a tranquilizer type shot might be a possibility. Would love to hear Lesley's idea. Thanks!
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          1. Lesley Dove
            I wrote on the other thread but in case you did not see it, here is my message again for you Carolyn. I hope everyone here will sign my petition and share it, because as you can see it is going rather too slowly! The contraceptive for wildlife is licensed in the US but not yet in the UK. I am now campaigning for it to be licensed by the govt dept DEFRA so as to be a possible choice for the Royal Parks in London to use on their deer in place of culling. There is always a non-lethal solution. One of the contraceptives is called Gonacon and already being used with success in Maryland on white-tailed deer, so this is not a new idea or pie in the sky as you will see if you google it and read up about it. It works on many different species too. I think it is better given individually to an animal by injection rather than in food as that way you can be sure which ones are being dosed and dosed correctly. With food some will get too much and some get too little and maybe not so safe or reliable. They could mark them somehow with a small amount of dye on the side of their body when they do the injection to show which had been done already so none get overdosed. It's really not likely much more difficult than killing, and they only need to do a certain proportion of the females to keep the birth rates down, no need to even bother with males. Please sign my petition of you agree, thanks! http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/defra-defra-please-license-wildlife-contraception-in-the-uk-eg-gonacon
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  4. Anita Vegana
    There are a lot of good points going here. I don't know what to say. But I voted! Great information! Please vote for me on my new article, How to Meet Vegans.
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    1. Carolyn
      Carolyn
      Anita, headed over there now! Thanks for the vote.
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  5. Roopam
    That's a thought provoking post...Carolyn...we as humans need to be very careful about the future steps we take in preserving the natural eco-balances...Voted!
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    1. Carolyn
      Carolyn
      Absolutely Roopa, I am not sure what the best solution is for the problem. Thanks for the vote and comment!
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  6. Skip Stein
    Skip Stein
    Yes, properly controlled hunting is the most humane thing to do. Starving is a terrible thing and that is what the animal population will do if nothing is done. I like many/most here do not want to see the senseless killing of animals; whether for sport or for 'food' (yuck!). As a hunter myself in years past, I always believed that you should eat what you shoot/kill and many of my friends who currently hunt do just that. While this is also considered a 'sport' it is a human means to thin the population. The park can charge really exorbitant fees for this to help subsidize the care and maintenance of the park and the animals therein. Limited licenses issuance will insure properly controlled culling of the heard and the Rangers are good at monitoring such activity. While these are truly elegant and impressive beasts, they life in an artificially constrained space so the levels must be maintained under strict rules of hunting. Just my opinion. Skip Stein
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    1. Lesley Dove
      It sounds to me that you are not an "ethical" vegan, merely a healthy eater who happens to follow a vegan diet. A real vegan would always support non-lethal solutions to the problem of animal populations (if there is even a problem!), in fact I am shocked that this is even up for debate on a VEGAN page. Culling actually causes birthrates to increase and does not work in keeping the population down, plenty of studies of wild populations indicate this. Animals can be caught and spayed or given a chemical contraception now. This is still not ideal as it is still a form of interference in their lives but it has to be better than ending their lives prematurely, and terrifying others in the herd who see their family members killed.
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      1. Veganara
        Veganara
        Very well said Lesley, you know I am 100% in agreement with you! your arguments are by far the most convincing. Another problem with shooting them is, how do you know you can always kill them instantly and painlessly with one clean shot? Even the most skilled marksman can't always do that, as deer are a fast-moving target, so hunters often shoot and injure animals, who then get away, and bleed to death in great pain. Not to mention the terror you cause to the rest of the herd, as you point out Lesley. And , what frequently happens, mother animals being killed and then leaving the young orphaned and not able to fend for themselves, so also doomed to an early death. I can't see any kind of justification for hunting, I really can't: maybe a different matter if you have to kill an animal in self-defence, i.e. a bear attacking or threatening you or other people.
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      2. Skip Stein
        Skip Stein
        Lesley, you are mostly correct. I am a nutritional vegan, for health & wellness, and do not strictly subscribe to the animal rights position. That being said, with the downside you mention of hunting, what would you suggest? Do you realize the expanse of area you are talking about and the difficulty of catching and applying contraceptives to these marvelous animals. Aren't you depriving them of the right to re-produce and to foster the survival of the fittest? I'm sorry that you don't agree with me, that is perfectly fine and we are still in a Free USA. I just don't see an alternative. And as for accuracy of the marksman, you would be surprised. True, not all are 'instant kills' but slow starvation is worse. While I am not your kind of 'ethical vegan' I DO support the end result many of you seek. The elimination of cruelty in the slaughter of animals. I don't believe we will ever see a Vegan Planet, but the closer we come to this the better off we, the animals and the Planet will be. I invite you to explore my approach to uniting US to fight for better husbandry of our Planet, Our Culture and Humankind. Please visit our Vegan-Conservatives: http://www.vegan-conservatives.org/documents/background.html Cheers, Skip Stein Vegan Conservatives http://vegan-conservatives.org/
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  7. Eve Sherrill York
    Eve Sherrill York
    What did they do back at the turn of the last century? I think the contraceptive sounds humane but what is the price? I am pro wolf so having a good elk population is good. This is an old posting have they come up with anything yet? Interesting subject. Will vote when able to. Used them all up.:(
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