DOW, commissioners discuss elk herds

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During the 2004 hunting season, about one-third of the elk killed in Colorado came from herds near Craig.

At Monday's Moffat County commissioners meeting, Div--ision of Wildlife officials discussed the size of those herds and plans to manage them.

The DOW will hold public meetings this summer to determine how many elk local ranchers, hunters and politicians want in the Bears Ears and White River herds.

The Bears Ears herd is north of Craig, and the White River herd is south of town.

This winter, DOW will perform a quadratic census of the herds. A quadratic census is a more intensive aerial count than typically is performed.

DOW area wildlife manager Dan Prenzlow said the census will provide a much more accurate population projection than the standard count does.

Quadratic censuses aren't used very often because they cost between $80,000 and $100,000.

DOW senior terrestrial biologist Jeff Madison said that the current DOW numbers, which indicate there are about 20,000 elk in the Bears Ears herd and 50,000 in the White River herd, are accurate, but not exact.

"I have confidence in our numbers," he told the commissioners. "But they're not absolute."

The census and the public meetings will help set DOW objective population sizes and determine the number of hunting licenses issued in the future.

The DOW objectives for the elk populations were set five years ago, but the process was cut short by fears of chronic wasting disease.

Prenzlow said the elk populations are currently over objective, despite large harvests from hunting.

The White River herd had 12,000 elk harvested last year, and 8,000 were harvested from the Bears Ears herd.

"We're still in reduction mode for elk," Prenzlow said.

Commissioner Tom Gray said after yesterday's meeting that he wants elk populations that aren't so big they damage range land, but aren't so small they harm the hunting economy.

The Moffat County commissioners plan to provide input about elk populations during this summer's public meetings.

"We want to ensure sustainability," Gray said.

Commissioner Saed Tayyara agreed, saying the populations shouldn't exceed the number of elk the landscape can handle.

"If the land holds 500, you don't put 1,000 there," he said.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at bjohansson@craigdailypress.com

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