Parks and rec commissioners call for more enforcement of wildlife closures after death of orphaned elk calf
Steamboat Springs — After learning this week that an elk calf that was orphaned last month near Rita Valentine Park died at a rehabilitation center, some Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission members are calling for better enforcement of wildlife closures in the city.
Driving some of the commissioners’ desires for more enforcement were the reports of some trail users who reportedly disobeyed the wildlife closures in the undeveloped city park and then got into confrontations with the elk calf’s aggressive mother.
Photographs taken by neighbors of the park showed dogs off leash fighting with the mother elk.
Several conflicts with the dogs and people and concerns about people’s safety ultimately led wildlife officials to tranquilize the mother elk and take her to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.
Her calf was captured a few days later, but a commissioner said Wednesday night that the calf was not rehabilitated successfully.
The outcome of the unprecedented incident had commissioners asking if anything could have been done differently.
“Nobody did anything wrong. Everybody did exactly as they were told, but there could be a little more enthusiasm to protect the wildlife we are inviting into that kind of environment,” Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jenette Settle said. “These dogs were not just standing there. They were attacking the elk, and it shouldn’t be happening.”
Rita Valentine is an off-leash dog park, but dogs are required to be under voice command at all times.
Settle suggested that the city get together some sort of volunteer group to help enforce trail closures due to aggressive wildlife.
“I would sit in a lawn chair at the start of a trail and tell people it’s closed,” Settle said.
Open Space and Trails Supervisor Craig Robinson said wildlife encounters in Steamboat go well beyond just Rita Valentine Park and include moose on the trails near The Sanctuary, bears all across town and mountain lions on Emerald Mountain.
He said that Parks and Recreation staff does not have the authority to enforce trail closures and that people must take personal responsibility when they see wildlife advisories and trail closures.
He added that it would be “challenging at best” for the city or anyone to actively patrol and enforce trail closures.
Commissioners asked about the possibility of using barricades at trail entrances instead of just signs if wildlife poses a danger to people.
Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department Director John Overstreet said he would reach out to the city’s police and animal control departments and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to discuss how these types of situations could be responded to in the future.
Commissioners also wanted to gauge how other communities respond to these types of wildlife situations.