Elk thanks Minturn resident?
MINTURN – The royal elk strode up to Pete Burnett, jumped in the air, and shook loose a set of six-point antlers before the Minturn resident.The elk turned around and repeated, shaking the other set of antlers loose in front of Burnett, who sat on a four wheeler. Burnett fed this elk and 26 others each night – and on some particularly bad mornings – in his backyard throughout the past winter made harsh by abundant snow.Burnett said he hopes the offering of antlers symbolized a royal elk ‘thank you.’ The elk left one set last year, but might have left two this year because of the snow-heavy winter, he said.”I was just watching him and I thought he was acting strange,” Burnett said. “I’ve never seen one shed their antlers in front of me. I just thought this was weird.”Just five elk came to Burnett’s yard last year. The abundant snowfall this year drove the 27 elk to lower elevations to find food, and they chose Burnett’s yard because of a lack of places to go because of over development, Burnett said.
“There’s a little pocket here and they got caught up there with no way out,” Burnett said. “They’re forced to come to places they don’t want to be and we don’t want them to be.”The animals had to be fed meadow grass hay so they wouldn’t eat the food provided to Burnett’s horses, he said.Burnett began feeding area Elk in 1983 during a harsh winter. Burnett and the other members of Grouse Mountain Nightriders snowmobile club fed elk in Dowd Junction and other areas.”They didn’t have anywhere to go and didn’t have anything to eat,” Burnett said.Burnett plans to give the antlers away to a friend, but he cautions others from seeking out shed antlers while elk and deer are still in the area and can be spooked.”They went through a hard winter so they’re stressed out to begin with,” he said. “If someone runs the elk until they get hot enough, they’ll just lay down and die.”
Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, disagreed with Burnett. The dropping of antlers wasn’t a gesture of thanks, he said.”Typically they drop their antlers this time of year,” Hampton said. “Or it could be interpreted as a sign of aggression because (Burnett) got so close to them.”Feeding elk is considered a crime under wildlife regulations, Hampton said, adding he couldn’t say whether Burnett would be cited for catering to the animals.When humans feed elk, it brings many of the animals into close quarters, increasing the likelihood of spreading diseases, Hampton said. Feeding the elk also enables them to live through a time when they might not normally live, increasing the number of elk living on limited areas and food sources, Hampton said.
If wildlife eat Burnett’s horses’ food, he can be reimbursed by the wildlife division for damages, Hampton said.Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14622, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado