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Hunters question plan for elk reduction in national park

Brief by Allen Best

Wildlife – December 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

Rocky Mountain National Park has become a refuge for a large and growing number of elk. That’s probably because no wildlife hunting is allowed within the park, as specified by Congress in 1915 and reaffirmed in 1929. And while mountain lions remain, the wolves that once kept elk numbers down have long since been extirpated.

With that in mind, reports the Sky-Hi News in Granby, the National Park Service may hire sharpshooters to reduce the elk population within the park by 1,200 to 1,700 during the next four years, and by another 50 to 100 each year for the next 16 years. The protocol would be to equip the sharpshooters with silencers, and have them do their work at night during late summer and fall in the Never Summer Range north of Grand Lake. Total cost is estimated at $16 million or more.

In Grand Lake, the western gateway to the national park, this idea was met with some incredulity. “Taking millions of dollars to hire people instead of selling licenses to hunters doesn’t make any sense,” said Jim Peterson, a town trustee. Larry Gamble, a Park Service representative, said the agency does not have the authority to allow hunting, and there are also concerns about establishing a precedent for other parks — even though Congress in the 1950s allowed hunting in Grand Teton National Park.

If all else fails, says the Park Service, up to 14 pairs of gray wolves will be released into the park during the next 20 years. Those wolves would be removed if they wander outside the park boundaries.