Coordinated elk hunt to reduce numbers considered

More than 30 local residents told three Division of Wildlife officials Thursday that the elk numbers in Northwest Colorado were too high.

And they agreed.

"We do not disagree that the population is over objective," DOW West Slope Manager Ron Velarde told the group. "Our goal is to get the number down to that objective."

Last year, the Bear's Ears Elk Herd, which roams in the area of Craig north to the Wyoming border, was 26,400.

The projection for the upcoming season is 20,317, still 8,000 over the objective, which is 12,200.

The White River Elk Herd, which roams south of Craig, was at 51,020 last year. The projection for the upcoming season in that area is 48,102.

The objective for that area is 28,000.

DOW Area Manager Dan Prenzlow said the goal is to reach the targeted objective within the next four years, but said the division could not guarantee that would happen.

Despite increases in the number of elk permits distributed, weather in the areas also is critical in reducing the number of elk, Prenzlow said.

"The goal is to reduce the elk population. Bottom line," Velarde said. "The last two years we have had a record number of elk harvested."

Last season, 6,883 elk were killed in the area north of Craig, up significantly from the 4,227 killed the year before.

South of Craig, 12,171 elk were killed last season, up from 8,595 the year before.

But many of the residents at Thursday's meeting, who included ranchers and rural landowners, said the DOW is not acting fast enough.

"You ought to see what they're doing to our property," said rancher John Peroulis. "I've seen 500 elk in one of my alfalfa fields."

The problem is the ratio of cows to bulls in the area, many said Thursday.

DOW officials estimated that there are about 100 cows for every 20 bulls in the area.

Peroulis said $250 for an out-of-state cow license is too steep.

"You're charging out-of-state hunters too much for cows," he said. "You're not going to cut this population down if you don't kill the cows."

Rancher Jake Hamill has taken the local lead among those who insist that the elk population needs to be cut down.

He distributed a letter Thursday he had written to Gov. Bill Owens requesting that something be done to reduce the herd sizes in Northwest Colorado. The letter was signed by more than 70 residents from Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties.

In the letter, Hamill states he has more than 300 elk on his property every day of the year and at certain times of the year, that population triples.

"Most ranchers face a double dilemma," he wrote. "They improve their water and forage and, when doing so, this attracts more elk. The elk get to the water, pasture and forage first plus tear down miles of fencing getting there."

Several theories on why the herds have gotten out of hand and what the best solution to the problem would be were discussed in the two-and-a-half-hour meeting.

In the end, Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos, a former Colorado Wildlife commissioner, urged all those with concerns to testify in front of the wildlife commission in upcoming meetings.

The commission will begin work on a new five-year management plan, which will be adopted sometime in 2004.

Many agreed that a coordinated effort must be made among property owners to decrease herd sizes on private property. Instead of hunting at different times, and basically pushing herds to other areas, landowners said a coordinated hunt should be held.

DOW Big Game Manager John Ellenberger said there was potential in the idea of planning a coordinated hunt.

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

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