Elk causes crashes near Glenwood | VailDaily.com

Elk causes crashes near Glenwood

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Three accidents involving six vehicles and a cow elk slowed Highway 82 traffic toward Aspen for almost three hours Tuesday morning. The accidents happened within seconds of each other near the intersection of County Road 113 and Highway 82 by Cattle Creek around 6:25 a.m., said Colorado State Patrol Trooper Steve Nofziger. No one was injured. He said a Ford Ranger hit an elk crossing the highway and rolled into the median. Next, a red Volkswagen sedan slowed down because of elk and got rear-ended by a red Toyota Tacoma pickup. After that, a blue Dodge Caravan and a black Mazda Protege slowed down to avoid the accident. Then a white Dodge pickup with a snowplow lost control behind them, squeezed between the guardrail and the two vehicles and scraped them both on right side, Nofziger said. The driver of the Toyota Tacoma pickup was ticketed for following too closely, and the driver of the Dodge pickup was cited with careless driving, Nofziger said. He said he couldn’t release the drivers’ names. The elk was injured. “The elk got hurt, but he’s still up and about,” Nofziger said Tuesday morning. Randy Hampton, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said the injured cow elk had jumped a guardrail and moved away from the road. It wasn’t moving around when a wlidlife officer looked at it in the morning, but it was doing better in the afternoon. The officer determined it wouldn’t need to be euthanized. “The elk was still in the same area, but she was moving around,” Hampton said. “So we’re leaving her alone.” Hampton said the Division of Wildlife counted less roadkill incidences earlier in the winter. But he added that warmer temperatures, wind and even some rain over the last week has caused snow to get crustier, which could make it harder for animals to find food and send them looking for it in more places. “Because of some of the changing conditions, we are starting to see more roadkill,” he said. Hampton said elk walk into roadways most when they’re feeding during the early morning when the sun is rising, and also from around 3 p.m. until sunset. “Unfortunately those are the two times that we see the most traffic,” he said. “There is no way to keep animals off Highway 82. It’s a long stretch and it’s right through the heart of a great deal of wildlife habitat.”

Curious onlookers a threat to injured elk cow in Vail

VAIL — An injured elk near East Vail will heal faster if you leave it alone, state wildlife officials say. People have been approaching, feeding and harassing an injured cow elk grazing in a field near East Vail, said officers with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Knock it off, they said. Local police and state wildlife officers have received reports that large crowds are walking up to the animal. A few people have put their arms around the animal's neck as they pose for pictures. That's a monumentally bad idea, they said. "If the elk gets aggressive and hurts someone it'll have to be put down," said Bill Andree, a local officer with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "For the sake of a picture, they're putting this elk's life in danger." It's been up there since February, living under an Interstate 70 overpass. In the past three weeks, it started wandering around the neighborhood, Andree said. "It is not only extremely irresponsible and unethical to harass and feed wildlife, it is also illegal and they will be fined if caught," said Ron Velarde, northwest regional manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "These people are essentially condemning the animal to death and putting our officers in the position of having to carry out the sentence." It's not clear how it was injured, but it's limping on its right rear leg. That could be something as simple as getting it twisted trying to jump a fence to avoid a motor vehicle on a road, Andree said. No use for humans Velarde warned that despite initial appearances, wild animals instinctively have little tolerance for humans. He said it's only a matter of time before the cow elk becomes agitated to the point of charging and injuring a person who gets too close. Human health and safety is a priority, and animals that injure a human are often killed by wildlife officers out of an abundance of caution, regardless of the circumstances, Velarde said. The Vail Police Department loves you and wants what's best for you, and what's best is to leave that elk alone. "The other concern is that it gets so used to being around people that we have an injury or a car crash," said Luke Causey, of the Vail Police Department. KEEP YOUR DISTANCE Watch wildlife from a distance with binoculars, a camera or spotting scope, say wildlife officers. In addition, keep your dogs on leashes in areas where encounters with wildlife are likely. Dogs are a serious threat to wild animals, and any law enforcement official is authorized to use lethal force to stop a dog that is chasing or injuring wildlife, wildlife officers said. "If a wild animal reacts to you or your dog, you are too close," said Velarde. "Keep your distance, keep dogs on a leash and remember to use good judgment around wildlife." Parks and Wildlife officers are asking people to leave this animal alone immediately. "We continuously provide guidance to the public about the best way to enjoy wildlife, and this is definitely not the way to do it," Velarde said. Colorado Parks and Wildlife advises the public to report illegal activity to the nearest Colorado Parks and Wildlife office, State Patrol or call Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648 if you wish to remain anonymous. Rewards may be available if the report leads to a citation. Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Animal antics in the Vail Valley

VAIL VALLEY, Colorado –After all, the wild critters were in Colorado’s Vail Valley first … The proximity of wildlife is often cited by local residents as one of their favorite things about living in the Colorado high country. But sometimes, wild things get a little too close to people. Sometimes that results in an uncomfortable situation for humans and animals alike. Whether it is bears raiding the refrigerator, skunks making themselves at home under the front porch or a fox family setting up house at a busy town intersection, animal tales are often the talk of the town. Here’s a sampling of some of the area’s famed animal antics: Last February, she was arguably the most renowned elk in the country. Her fame was tied to her unusual head gear – a bar stool. The cow elk was spotted wandering around the Brush Creek Valley with the stool stuck on her head. “She’s very active. The bar stool doesn’t seem to be impairing her to any great degree. She just looks kind of goofy,” said Colorado Division of Wildlife officer Craig Wescoatt. Eventually resident Bill Johnson snapped a photo of the elk, which was featured in several state and even national media outlets including CNN. The elk’s predicament was one of the questions of the National Public Radio show “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me.” The Vail Daily ran a contest asking people to write in and guess how the elk ended up with the stool on her head. Some of the more colorful accounts had her idling up to the Brush Creek Saloon for a beer when things went awry. The true story was less dramatic, but more plausible. Brush Creek resident Annie Egan reported the stool was missing from her backyard. Apparently the elk was foraging around the chair when she became entangled in it. Wescoatt noted that the elk was a wily one. Several times wildlife officers attempted to get close enough to bring her down with a tranquilizer dart, but she always stayed out of reach. As a result, the stool stayed put. “She had adapted very well to life with a bar stool on her head,” said Wescoatt. “The last I saw of her was last April, going up Abrams Creek. The stool looked like it has lost a leg.” There’s been no bar stool elk sightings for months, leading Wescoatt to theorize the animal ultimately got rid of her cranial appendage. But without a telltale bar stool on its head, one cow elk looks remarkably like any other cow elk. She may still be wandering around Brush Creek, incognito. “She became something of a celebrity and I think we would have heard about it if someone had harvested her, or found the stool,” said Wescoatt. Basements, particularly those still under construction, can prove to be the bane of a deer or elk’s existence. “We have had quite a few deer in window wells,” said Wescoatt. “In almost every one of those instances the homeowner is more concerned about getting the animal out safely, rather than property damage.” Wescoatt said one deer actually broke through the window and ended up in an Arrowhead basement. Removing that animal was difficult. While The Orchards Subdivision in Eagle was under construction, a wildlife officer had to use a a rope, tranquilizer gun and a backhoe to rescue an elk calf that tumbled into a basement that was still being built. A trackhoe operator found the young bull elk huddled in the cement foundation of a home located near the ice rink. The frantic elk alternated between attempting to jump out of the 12-foot high enclosure and resting in a shady corner. Wescoatt and fellow wildlife officer Bill Andree were summoned and tried to calm the elk with a dart from a tranquilizer gun. The dart apparently hit a bone, breaking the needle, and the medication was never delivered. The officers then climbed into the basement, tied the elk’s legs with a rope, covered its head with a jacket, then loaded into the bucket of a trackhoe operated by Logan Satterfield. Once out, the elk was placed in a truck, and then hauled out to the eastern edge of the Eagle Ranch subdivision to be released. The calf paused only a moment before trotting away. People don’t spot too many moose in Vail, period, let alone moose trapped in a confined patio space right outside their sliding glass door. This particular animal was trapped in the confined space when heavy snowfall prevented it from leaving the area. Wildlife officers eventually had to come in and tranquilize the animal to remove it from the patio. But that lead to another problem. Andree said wildlife personnel had to cut down a fence or haul the moose through the house. Turns out the latter solution proved more practical. As a result, officers had to maneuver a full-grown female moose through the Vail home. “The homeowner was a bit concerned about it,” said Andree. Those concerns were allayed by having wildlife officers videotape the operation to show that no damage resulted. The moose cooperated with the plan, succumbing to the tranquilizer and staying under while officers removed her from the premises. The animal was relocated several miles away and hasn’t ever come back to visit. As for the Vail house, the only “damage” was the mud tracked in by the people who helped with the rescue. Wildlife officers often get calls about elk and deer with Christmas lights or other items strung in their antlers. In Eagle County, animals are also often found entangled in ski area rope. When possible, wildlife officers immobilize the animals and remove the antler ornaments (see above). Sometimes it’s another animal that’s stuck in their antlers. That was the case about a year ago up Brush Creek when a pair of young bull elk became entangled in each others’ antlers. The animals tussled for hours. Andree said wildlife officials eventually managed to rope the animals and hold them still while a rescuer sawed off the antlers to free the two elk. “We try not to tranquilize them if we don’t have to.” When wildlife officers are called into help rescue wild animals, often times its little creatures instead of big ones that need help. “We get a lot of calls about skunks with their head stuck in jars,” said Wescoatt. That presents an understandably difficult dilemma that officers solve by employing a great big tarp. “Of course the trick there is getting a tarp over them before they can spray you. So far I’ve been successful,” he said. Andree’s most memorable small animal rescue was the time a Wildridge family reported a weasel living in their walls. “I cut holes in the walls until I found him and then he got out and I chased him around the basement for about an hour,” said Andree. “Ultimately, I caught him.” Freelance writer Kathy Heicher contributed to this report.

Northern Colo rancher convicted of poaching elk

CRAIG, Colorado ” A jury has convicted a Moffat County rancher of poaching charges in the killing of elk found last spring in a hay field and along a highway and county roads. The district court jury Friday convicted Rodney Culverwell of 16 of the 80 poaching charges stemming from a Colorado Division of Wildlife investigation last spring. The charges included felony willful destruction of big game and misdemeanor charges of hunting without a license and hunting out of season. Culverwell’s sentencing hearing is scheduled Nov. 4 and the possible penalties include jail time, fines or parole. Rancher Kenneth Wolgram pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in the case in August. He will be sentenced Sept. 25. Culverwell, convicted of killing only four of several elk, said he shot the animals because they were caught in his fence. He testified that he couldn’t pull his fence up while the elk were tangled in them and he couldn’t cut them loose because the animals would be dangerous. Prosecutor Jeremy Snow said Culverwell had other options, including calling the Division of Wildlife or standing on the side of the fences, away from the elk, to cut them loose. Culverwell’s attorney, Pamela Mackey, said the evidence didn’t prove that her client killed all 16 elk he was accused of shooting. She said testimony from other ranchers showed they don’t think the Division of Wildlife will help them. Mackey said her client shares that belief and acted to protect his property, himself and his family and put the animals out of their misery. The Division of Wildlife in February began investigating the deaths of elk found in a field and along a road, where state wildlife officers said the animals had been dumped, according to affidavits. Several more carcasses, including elk calves, were found over the next several weeks. A state wildlife officer said Culverwell had e-mailed him to complain about wildlife eating his cattle feed and asking for the right to kill wildlife

Elk die after falling through ice at Colorado reservoir

GUNNISON, Colorado ” State wildlife officials say more than a dozen elk have died since Sunday after falling through the ice at Paonia Reservoir in Gunnison County, Colorado. The Colorado Division of Wildlife says a concerned citizen called authorities Sunday to report seeing elk in the reservoir. A wildlife officer responded and found eight dead elk in the water, about 80 yards from the bank. The division received similar calls Tuesday and found 11 elk in the reservoir, five of which were barely alive. A wildlife officer euthanized those animals. J Wenum, area wildlife manager in Gunnison, says the situation is unfortunate but not unusual in Colorado during the winter. Wenum says the reservoir is a source of drinking water for the animals, but the ice isn’t thick enough to hold numerous elk, which can weigh up to 900 pounds each.

Elk moving onto Rocky Mountain roads

ASPEN ” Elk are not yet in full spring migration, but the animals are moving and that can cause problems, say Colorado Division of Wildlife officials. On a recent Friday morning, Pitkin County Sheriff’s units responded to a call of an injured elk in the downvalley lane of U.S. Highway 82. Officials closed all downvalley traffic briefly to shoo the animal out of harm’s way. The cow elk had an “old injury” to its right front leg, and was in bad shape, said Ron Ryan, investigative coordinator for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s office. “It couldn’t move,” Ryan said. And when he and a sheriff’s deputy approached, trying to shoo the animal away from where it sat on a precarious median between lanes on the highway, it wouldn’t budge. Rere Baker, Pitkin County’s animal-control officer, and Kevin Wright, district wildlife manager, debated whether to put the animal down. “The animal had a lot of spunk in it left,” Wright said, saying the elk had an injured hoof and was in bad shape but not a loss. “I don’t put down animals because they have a hurt leg.” “There are lots of three-legged deer and elk running around out there,” he added. Wright checked the animal later it was shooed off the highway and said it was in better shape. With Daylight Savings Time in effect, drivers commuting during hours that are usually dark are driving in dusk. And wildlife officials see an increase in animal collisions after the clocks change because drivers aren’t used to slowing down for the many animals foraging in dusk light. Elk are starting to go toward calving grounds or forage in areas where snow is melting, and motorists need to stay alert and drive slowly, wildlife officers say. “People are in too much of a hurry and need to slow down,” Wright said.

Eagle County’s deep snow buries deer food

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Developers and wildlife are often in conflict in this community. But cooperation from one local developer is smoothing the way for the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s efforts to feed elk this winter in the Brush Creek Valley. Wildlife biologists were looking for a place to bait the elk herd that winters in the Brush Creek valley. They also needed a place where the elk could graze without mashing down fragile wetlands or creating a traffic hazard alongside busy town streets. Wildlife officer Craig Wescoatt thought an ideal place to feed elk would be the 660-acre “Haymeadow” next to the Eagle Ice Rink. In past years, hundreds of elk have grazed on the hayfield stubble on the empty lot. Newman Realty Holdings, the owner of the Haymeadow land, readily agreed to make the property available for the feeding operation when Wescoatt asked. “Helping was the right thing to do … our desire is to be good stewards of the land, and good neighbors,” said Ric Newman, manager of the company. The property meets the goals of getting the animals away from the road, away from people, and away from hay on surrounding farms and ranches, Wescoatt said. The Haymeadow parcel is likely to be developed, Newman Realty halted its plans in 2006 while the town revises its growth policies. The last time that deer were fed in the area was during the winter of 1983-84. This winter’s deep snow has covered up the small plants and shrubs that deer rely on to survive the winter. “But this winter calls for unusual measures,” said Wescoatt, noting that winter snow storms started hitting the county the third week in December, and essentially didn’t let up until last week. The feeding program is a two-step effort that involves feeding both deer and elk. In order to effectively feed deer ” the smaller, more fragile species ” wildlife officers must “bait” the much bigger, stronger elk away from locations where deer will be eat. Baiting elk also is supposed to keep the animals from eating hay farmers in the area feed their horse and cattle. Since Feb. 15, wildlife workers have been cranking up snowmobiles to haul hay and specially formulated food pellets to feeding areas away from Brush Creek Road and close to the gypsum hills that form the valley’s walls. The Brush Creek site is one of a half-dozen locations in the county, from Gypsum to Wolcott, where deer will be fed. The hay officers will haul is for the elk, not the deer, wildlife officer Bill Andree said. “Elk will eat hay and thrive on it,” he said. Hay is not nutritious enough for deer, he added. Colorado policy is to start feeding big game animals when it appears that winter conditions may result in the loss of up to 30 percent of the female population, Wescoatt said. “In a normal winter, deer mortality is two to three times the rate of elk mortality,” Andree said. Deer have not yet come to feed along Brush Creek. Historically, deer were much more plentiful in the valley than they are now ” and by far outnumbered elk. The Division of Wildlife considered Eagle County one of the top three deer-hunting areas in the state. That’s no longer true. For the past several decades, deer numbers have dwindled, while the elk population has increased. Andree, who has worked in the valley since the early 1980s, said increased pressures from development, such as more people and dogs, accounts for the change. “Deer numbers are still below their historic levels,” Andree said. Wescoatt said recent counts suggest that the deer herd on Brush Creek has 500 to 1,000 animals. More deer live on Hardscrabble mountain, south of Eagle. The elk herd that winters in the lower Brush Creek valley at times numbers as high as 600. This year, observers said, the animals seem to be moving in smaller groups of 30 to 40 elk. Although the feeding operation has been in place for less than a week, the elk are figuring it out. “We’ve already tripled or quadrupled the number of elk at the site,” Andree said. On Monday, a small herd of elk bedded down in a copse of cottonwood trees and watched patiently as wildlife officers drove past on snow machines loaded down with hay and pellets. As soon as the people were out of sight, a line of elk formed toward the feeding areas. “Once we start that, we are in it for the duration. We’ll be feeding until the weather significantly breaks,” Andree said.

Wildlife hits the interstate

EAGLE COUNTY – People driving on Interstate 70 near Edwards early Monday morning saw lots of flashing police car lights. Police and wildlife officers weren’t responding to an accident, though. They were helping an injured elk in a ditch on the eastbound side of the road.The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, State Patrol and the Department of Wildlife responded to the call at about 8 a.m. Monday near Wilmore Lake, west of Edwards.”We were concerned with the elk possibly getting into traffic and causing some accident,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Tad Degan. The elk, which had been hit by a car, had to be put down, Degan said.”Be vigilant. It’s the best advice we can give,” Degan added.Wildlife crossing the interstate is a common thing in the county, said District Wildlife Manager Bill Andree of the state Division of Wildlife. “On Monday, there were six accidents involving wildlife from Avon to Dotsero,” he said.The interstate from Avon to Dotsero is a high wildlife migration area and people can expect deer and elk to cross the road at any time, Andree said. “There’s always a lot of wildlife on the road, but with the snow melting, there could be some green grass growing attracting them even more,” he said. “There aren’t fences the whole way. And fences also get holes on them, and the animals seem to find the holes.”To avoid hitting wildlife, Andree recommends people slow down and drive no faster than 60 mph in areas that have wildlife warning signs posted by the Colorado Department of Transportation.”Locals know that in the Wolcott area, elk will be out,” he said. “Going slow and paying attention to the signs or to the dead animals along the road helps.”Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or vwhitney@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado

Photo: Bar stool elk photographed in Eagle Valley

EAGLE VALLEY, Colorado ” Wildlife officers in Colorado’s Eagle Valley have gotten lots of reports of a female elk with a bar stool stuck on its head. While district wildlife manager Craig Wescoatt said the stool doesn’t seem to be impeding the animal’s movement, but wildlife officers haven’t been able to get close enough to the elk to remove the extra headgear. The animal was first seen about two weeks ago along Brush Creek, south of the Eagle Ice Rink. It also was spotted west of Eagle, near the gas plant. “She’s very active,” Wescoatt said. “The bar stool doesn’t seem to be impairing her to any great degree. She just looks kind of goofy.”

Food handouts don’t help, but do harm, wildlife

Winter is here and that means animals will have to search a little harder for food. Colorado Parks and Wildlife wants to remind people that the best way to help hungry animals is to let them find their next meal on their own. "People may mean well, but those who feed deer do more harm than good," said Scott Murdoch, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer. A law passed in 1992 makes it illegal to feed big game animals. This includes deer, elk, pronghorn, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and bears. Feeding wildlife is bad for the animals and dangerous for people, for a number of different reasons. In the wild, deer and elk naturally spread out when grazing or browsing for food. Artificial feeding encourages them to crowd together making it easier to spread disease throughout a herd. Also, artificial concentrations of deer in neighborhoods results in increased vehicle collisions and conflicts with dogs harassing deer. Deer are the primary prey of mountain lions and large gatherings of deer can attract lions into neighborhoods, putting people, livestock and pets at risk. The mountain lions are also then put in danger because it may become necessary to kill them if they become a threat to human health and safety. "Every winter, officer's deal with numerous pets and livestock that get killed by mountain lions because homeowners are feeding deer; deer do just fine without the public's help," said Murdoch. Wild animals have complex digestive systems and their natural diet is difficult to duplicate. Food from human sources can also lead to malnutrition, a disruption in natural migration patterns and death. To report incidents of feeding or other illegal wildlife activity contact a local Colorado Parks and Wildlife officer. If you wish to remain anonymous, contact Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648. Rewards may be offered if the information leads to a citation. For more information, please visit: http://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/LivingwithWildlifeDeeraspx.