Saturday, February 10, 2007

Colorado wants hunting in park

ESTES PARK, Colo. (AP) -- Up to 3,000 elk that have made Rocky Mountain National Park their home are destroying aspen groves and meadows and ruining beaver ponds, prompting state wildlife commissioners to urge their hunting.

At their monthly meeting Thursday, the State Wildlife Commission said they would seek to change a 78-year-old federal law prohibiting hunting within the park.

"It's been interesting with some of the nonsense that goes on," said District Wildlife Manager Rick Spowart. "This is a difficult herd to manage."

Elk have been found with Christmas lights, swings, plastic patio chairs, and even bicycles wrapped around their heads in neighboring Estes Park.

"Culling is not hunting; it's shooting them," said Commissioner Rick Enstrom. "It's a waste of a valuable resource. "

"The Division of Wildlife is willing to manage" the herd, Enstrom said.

Park officials last year proposed killing off some of the park's abundant elk herd at night with silencer-equipped guns.

There are estimated to be between 2,200 and 3,000 elk and officials want to reduce that to about 1,700. Their numbers have increased because the animals have few predators and no hunting is allowed in the park. The culling would happen over 20 years at a cost of $18 million.

Beavers use both willow and aspen trees for food and to build their dams. Both have been eaten down by elk.

The division would be prepared to train hunters and supervise the hunt, Enstrom said, adding that the park could save money by charging hunters.

Unregulated hunting left few elk in the area at the beginning of the 20th century and about 50 were brought in from Yellowstone National Park in 1913 and 1914.

From 1969 to 1999, the number of elk in the area increased from 500 to 3,000.

About 100 elk are found in the Town of Estes Park year-round. They have become tourist attractions, though they are also causing problems.