Division of Wildlife officers Adrian Archuleta, left, and Mike Swaro look at an elk trapped in a shed belonging to Randy and Terri Reno, who live in the 1400 block of Yampa Avenue. The animal became tangled in a roll of twine while foraging for food. Archuleta and Swaro cut the animal free.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Division of Wildlife officers Adrian Archuleta, left, and Mike Swaro look at an elk trapped in a shed belonging to Randy and Terri Reno, who live in the 1400 block of Yampa Avenue. The animal became tangled in a roll of twine while foraging for food. Archuleta and Swaro cut the animal free.

Unwelcome guests

Foraging elk prove problematic for DOW officials, Craig and Maybell property owners

— Randy Reno stood in his backyard Monday morning looking into a storage shed tucked behind his house at 1413 N. Yampa Ave.

On snow stamped down by elk and deer, chickens warbled at Reno's feet, pecking at kitchen scraps he scattered for them.

The chickens, however, weren't the wildlife capturing Reno's attention.

"He looks pretty miserable, doesn't he?" said Reno, motioning toward the wooden shed about 50 feet away.

The object of his sympathy: A yearling bull elk, estimated to weigh about 400 pounds, with antlers ensnared in yellow twine.

The elk was one of about 50 that bedded down on his property Sunday night, Reno said.

The animal had been eating straw on the shed's floor when its horns tangled in the twine. It was unable to get free and spent the night in the shed, Reno said.

The unwilling guest was a concern for Reno and his wife, Terri. The animal's predicament also represents a broader issue for the Division of Wildlife.

Heavy snowfalls and severe winter conditions have caused elk and deer to move down to their winter feeding grounds, DOW officer Adrian Archuleta said.

Unfortunately for the Renos, their property north of Craig sits in the middle of those wintering areas.

"We always had deer through here, but we've never had elk this close to the house," Reno said.

In response to complaints from local ranchers about property damage incurred by deer and elk, DOW officials are beginning to bait large herds away from Maybell ranches, a press release from the DOW reported.

A shortage of food during the long winter has compounded the problem.

"Elk in search of food can consume large quantities of hay that ranchers are placing out for cattle," the DOW reported.

Reno said he initially didn't mind the animals eating a little of the hay he had reserved for his horses.

"I hate seeing (animals) starve," he said.

But, after elk and deer made short work of a round bale, he began to get annoyed, he said.

Nothing in the Renos' yard has been immune to the animals' starved appetites.

Elk and deer have eaten his apple and aspen trees, devoured his currant bush and are "wiping out" sagebrush surrounding their property, Reno said.

"They've eaten anything they can chew," he added.

The animals left telltale signs - tracks across the Renos' backyard - showing where they had foraged for food.

The paths led to unlikely places, including the Renos' garage. The only object in the building that looked remotely edible was a plastic decorative tree, Randy said - an object he thinks the animals could have confused for the real thing but wisely left untouched.

For one elk, his path ended in the Renos' shed.

The animal looked "pretty weak," Reno said. He and his wife feared DOW officials would put the animal down.

They also feared for their belongings stored in the shed, Terri said.

Archuleta and Mike Swaro, another DOW officer, responded to the Renos' call and cut the animal free. But, hours after the DOW officers left, Terri had no clearer idea of how much damage the elk had incurred since that morning.

The reason?

He refused to leave.

Randy placed piles of hay outside of the shed, hoping to lure the animal out of its shelter. It was an ironic turn of events, considering the Renos' hay initially lured the elk to the spot.

Terri said she was more concerned for the elk's welfare than any threat it could pose to herself or her husband. Although she and her husband had never found a wild animal trapped on their property before, Terri said the elk's helpless position made him less of a threat.

"He seems pretty docile," she said. "I don't think he's going to be very violent until someone corners him."

Still, elk have not come this close to her property in 60 years, she said - an indicator of the seriousness of the situation.

"I feel sorry for all of" the elk, she said. "You know, they're starving."

Bridget Manley can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207 or bmanley@craigdailypress.com

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