Overrun by elk

Residents want state to curb area herd populations

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There are too many elk in Northwest Colorado.

A group of about 10 people agreed on that fact at a Monday Moffat County commissioners meeting.

Landowners discussed several theories about why wild herds are overtaking their land and several ideas were provided on how to deal with the problem.

Moffat County resident Jake Hamill, a landowner in the Williams Fork area, has gathered 400 signatures and has written letters to the governor, his congressman and the Division of Wildlife.

"I've been complaining for a couple of years about the lack of control of elk by the DOW," Hamill said. "The constant migration of these animals is putting me out of the agriculture business."

Hamill said some of his land was as hard as the floor he was standing on in the commissioner chambers but said he hasn't had cattle on that land for three years.

The elk are eating everything, he said.

Routt County landowner Sue Nottingham agreed.

"We've had a tremendous elk problem there for years," she said of her property. "The division likes to talk about it but they won't do anything about it."

Frank Self, senior environmental specialist at Trapper Mine, said he has seen an increase in the number of animals on the mine's land.

"It's starting to have a detrimental impact to our reclamation," he said. "We've gone from no animals to several hundred head. It's grazed down to nothing right now."

While the problem was obvious to those at the meeting, a solution seemed to be elusive.

Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos, who recently stepped down from the Colorado Wildlife Commission, said the state commission would soon be undertaking a five-year season structure for wild game.

"I can't stress enough how important it is to testify in front of the wildlife commission," she said. "That's the best way to get things to change on that commission -- to sit there and give public comment."

The commission allowed 2,000 more hunting licenses to be sold in Northwest Colorado this year.

But many in the meeting, including Commissioner Darryl Steele, said allowing more rifles in the field has not been a solution thus far.

"Two-thousand cows out of this herd around here is a drop in the bucket," he said.

Landowner Bill Green agreed.

"I don't think you have enough hunters in Northwest Colorado to take care of the problem," he said.

Suggestions were made to pursue more drastic measures, such as Division of Wildlife officials killing animals to cut down on the size of herds.

But Raftopoulos the state would likely ignore such a plan.

"They won't even talk about it," she said of state employees killing elk. "They won't even listen to you."

While they disagreed on what needed to be done, the group agreed to hold a meeting with local Division of Wildlife officials on what their next step should be.

If they come up with a plan there, they will take it to the state level.

"The reality is in five years, half of us won't be in business because the elk have taken over," Nottingham said.

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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