Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Culling elk

A 20-year plan to thin the elk herd in Rocky Mountain National Park could cost $18 million (to kill some animals and disperse others), according to a story distributed by the Associated Press.

An estimated 2,200 to 3,000 elk live in the park, overgrazing vegetation that is also important to other wildlife including songbirds, beavers and butterflies, biologists said. Elk numbers have escalated because the animals have few predators and no hunting is allowed in the park, according to the AP story. The park’s goal is a herd of 1,200 to 1,700 elk.

What costs such big bucks? Hiring staff or a contractor to shoot elk, building fences to protect vegetation, transporting carcasses, testing them for disease and processing the meat. Park officials want to kill the elk at night with silencer-equipped guns.

Officials know their plans upset some people. While most recognize that something needs to be done to manage the population, there are contentious disagreements over the best method, said park biologist Therese Johnson. (Congress would have to approve any plan to allow hunting in a national park.)

The park is accepting public comments until July 4. For details, visit the Web site and select Rocky Mountain National Park.

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