Elk herd finds a winter home at Eagle Ranch | VailDaily.com

Elk herd finds a winter home at Eagle Ranch

Humans need to show some common sense as they welcome the new neighbors

A herd of elk has moved into Eagle Ranch to weather this winter and locals are enjoying the sight, hopefully from a respectful distance.
Pam Boyd/pboyd@vaildaily.com

EAGLE — For downvalley humans, it’s pretty cool when elk decide to hunker down around Eagle for the winter.

For the elk, it’s more of a lesser-of-two-evils situation.

For the next few weeks, humans and elk will be cohabitating in the Eagle Ranch area as a herd that has been estimated to number as many as 100 animals weathers the winter months. The elk periodically find their way to Eagle Ranch during the height of the winter, roaming along the Brush Creek corridor when snow and cold force them down from the nearby hillsides.

But even though they have been here before, it’s still a great sight when the animals gather so close to houses.

“These elk have chosen to move into the town area, but even though they have chosen to be here, it’s more a case of tolerating humans than of being habituated to human presence,” said Craig Wescoatt, district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The elk are pawing through the lower elevation snowpack to feed on natural grasses, shrubs and anything else edible they can uncover, Wescoatt said.

“This winter is starting to stack up to be slightly more severe than average for the animals,” he added.

Try to be a good neighbor

Because they are so close to town, Wescoatt said humans need to be more aware than ever about how they can adversely impact the elk herd.

“The only way the elk are going to be able to survive is off their existing fat reserves,” he said. “The only way they can do that is to basically lay around and do nothing.”

Wescoatt noted that every time an elk stands up in response to a human who has gotten too close, the animal is using energy it really can’t afford to waste. Mulitply that several times over when an elk has to run away from an off-leash dog.

“Everyone should just stay on the paths and give the elk space and definitely keep dogs on leash,” Wescoatt said. “Anytime you see the elk stand up, you are too close.”

It is, of course, interesting to view the elk while they are so close to town. Wescoatt noted that it doesn’t seem to bother the animals if people keep a respectful distance away and remain inside a vehicle. He said the elk don’t seem to sense a threat unless a human gets to close or a human silhouette is clearly visible.

For example, the elk bedded down in the open area just north of Brush Creek Park early this week and the animals routinely ignored cars that pulled into the pavilion parking lot to get a better view.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has no plans to provide feed for the animals and reminds residents that it is illegal to put out hay, salt or mineral blocks for wildlife.

“We don’t want these elk to be habituated so they don’t fear humans at all. Then you can get elk who are territorial and stand up to humans,” Wescoatt said.

Nobody benefits from that situation, he said.

“Just use some common sense and respect their space and hopefully they will respect yours,” Wescoatt said.