CRAIG, A northwest Colorado elk herd is two to three times larger than originally believed, state wildlife officials say.
The Bears Ears herd is now estimated at 23,000 to 45,000, state Division of Wildlife officials said. Previous estimates put the herd at 11,000 to 15,000 animals.
The new count is based on a spring survey of elk herd ranges using three helicopters and one airplane.
"We used a grid system to count the elk on the ground," DOW wildlife biologist Darby Finley said. "We flew over 1,754 miles of winter range and counted 4,119 elk."
Some northwest Colorado landowners had complained for years that the Division of Wildlife elk estimates were faulty.
"There's way too many elk in some places," rancher John Smith said. "They move into these meadows too early and rub out the growth. They kill the edible brush."
At a meeting last week, rancher T. Wright Dickinson told wildlife officers they have an obligation to make sure elk range is protected, just as ranchers are expected to make sure cattle range isn't overused.
"You need to survey for the health of the range. It can't handle the numbers (of elk) it has now," he said.