Saving the elk through conservation and advocacy
Eagle Valley chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is committed to improving Colorado elk herd populations
By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by the Eagle Valley chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
With more than 4,000 less elk in the Eagle Valley today than in 2002, including sharp declines in the annual number of elk calves, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is particularly focused on elk calf retention rates and recruitment.
The conservation and pro-hunting organization, which has chapters throughout the Rocky Mountain region, is also working hard to educate the community about the impacts we all have on wildlife each and every day.
“If you’re out where wildlife is, are you in calving grounds? Are you having a detrimental impact on wildlife? asked Troy Sweet, senior regional director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “We need to coexist. Think about what your actions are going to mean for wildlife.”
The Elk Foundation is conducting studies of elk herd populations in the valley and in other parts of Colorado. The numbers should be able to paint a larger picture of the kinds of solutions that will be needed to protect elk herds.
Last June, The Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported human disruption as the biggest issue affecting elk populations. Sweet and Ray Long, committee chairman of the Eagle Valley chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, agree there’s no doubt that humans are the cause of the declines.
“Humans use the crap out of the wilderness. Animals can’t get away from us — we’re encroaching on their habitat daily,” said Sweet said. “We’re losing extreme amounts of wildlife habitat every day. One of the things we want to accomplish as an organization is making sure wild places stay wild.”
Sweet said this encroachment happens in a variety of ways. From increased predator activity to development to increased trail use by mountain bikers to the installation of game fences that have altered migration patterns to elk-vehicle collisions, elk are losing an uphill battle.
“If we can’t figure something out, this will get worse,” Sweet said. “Trying to let nature take its course doesn’t work anymore. We as a society have invaded their territory. Wildlife can’t manage themselves — we humans, as the apex predator, play a huge role.”
Hunters’ role in conservation
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s mission is to do what’s best for the wildlife, Sweet said, even if it means decreasing the number of annual hunting permits or altering hunting seasons and locations to better accommodate wildlife needs.
“Calories are really hard to come by in the winter, especially in a tough winter,” Sweet said. “All it takes is a drought and lack of forage and the elk might not recover from that.”
When the public gets involved and start dictating how wildlife should be managed at the ballot box, Sweet said it’s the wildlife that lose. Wildlife management shouldn’t be politically motivated, Sweet said.
“I think there’s a misconception that because we kill them, we don’t value them — that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” Sweet said. “It’s a resource we work really hard to save so we can all enjoy the resource.”
Long is a fourth generation Eagle County native. Hunting is a part of his heritage for which he wants to preserve for future generations.
“You work the land like you owe it something — that’s how I think hunters feel,” Long said. “Seeing the shape the animals are in in this county and in the state, we owe it to them to do what we have to do to bring the population back and make it sustainable.”
Doing your part
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation isn’t just about hunting; it’s a conservation organization that is for the betterment of the entire ecosystem and environment, Long said. Whether or not you choose to support habitat conservation work, Long said people still have a major role to play in protecting wildlife.
“Calf and fawn recruitment is vital to the survival of the species. You can have the best habitat in the world for wildlife, but if the next generation isn’t surviving due to other conditions, the overall population will suffer,” Long said.
Long said he recently saw three animals killed by vehicles on the side of the road between Eagle and Wolcott over the span of just a couple of days.
“Be more careful driving when it gets dark out, and at dawn and dusk,” Long said. “Enjoy and observe wildlife from afar in the wintertime. Let them move the way they want to move and try not to impose on their winter space.”
While elk in the Eagle Valley are not endangered, the declining numbers are concerning and the foundation wants to do whatever it can to lead the charge that turns things around.
Sweet said it’s important to donate to organizations that put money on the ground. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation puts $0.91 of every $1 raised back toward elk conservation. And the money doesn’t just help the elk; it helps deer, bears, predators, antelope and plenty of other non-gaming animals.
“Look at the types of organizations you’re supporting — is it making a difference?” Sweet said. “We’re approaching $180 million in work in Colorado alone. Make sure you’re donating to organizations that are putting their money where their mouth is.”