On-line Book
cover to Fauna 1
Fauna Series No. 1








Suggested Policy

Fauna of the National Parks
of the United States



Situations where park animals are suffering from lack of winter range must be met by extending the area to include the needed habitat if there is any possible way of doing so. There is an alternative in management, but it is a poor expedient at best, having several unfortunate consequences of its own. Artificial feeding is expensive. Concentration at feeding stations is a potential for the spread of disease. There are unguessed possibilities for harm in wild animals. Besides, holding game herds in the higher altitudes of deep snows exposes them unduly to carnivores. This means that additional management to protect them against the unnatural and excessive exposure to their enemies is required; and it is always undesirable to create a condition which necessitates interference with the predatory species in a park. The so-called northern elk herd in Yellowstone is an example containing all the elements of this type of problem, but it has been ably covered elsewhere by William Rush 10 in his 3-year study of this herd. Consequently, another example has been chosen for treatment here.

Beaver Park meadows, Rocky
Mountain NP
FIGURE 16. – One of the meadows in Beaver Park frequented by the park elk
and a necessity to them in winter.
Photograph taken June 26, 1931, in Rocky Mountain. Wild Life Survey No. 1895

Elk range in Rocky Mountain. – American wapiti were so abundant in this section in early days that market hunters took them out in wagonloads. They were almost exterminated and were later reintroduced from Yellowstone. There are now believed to be approximately 350 in the area, and Rocky Mountain National Park is already faced with an elk problem.

Elk on the east slope require the grasses at the edge of timber and above for summer range, the forested middle slopes for protection and calving, and the open valleys lower down for winter range.

The present park has suitable area for the first two requirements, but none for the third, which is, of course a critical one.

mouth of Black Canyon, Rocky
Mountain NP
FIGURE 17. – The mouth of Black Canyon supports stands of antelope brush (Purshia tridentata),
aspen, and other browse vital to elk and deer in winter.
Photograph taken June 26, 1931, in Rocky Mountain. Wild Life Survey No. 2425

The eastern boundary is intersected by a series of open mountain valleys which are privately owned and therefore lie outside of the park proper. These valleys, including Estes Park itself, are the natural and only available winter range for the elk. They drift down into these parks in winter, destroying fences, gardens, hay stacks, etc. Consequently, they are very much disliked locally. In harboring the animals the Park Service accepts a responsibility that they should not be a nuisance to the countryside. If the problem is not met squarely, and, as a result, the elk are looked upon as a liability instead of an asset, both the elk and the cause of conservation will suffer.

The crest of the foothills just east of Estes Park would be the most nearly ideal natural boundary for the park; but for a long time to come the best that can be hoped for by way of a solution is to purchase the private holdings in the small higher valleys, namely, Moraine, Beaver, and Horseshoe Parks and Black Canyon. The program of enlarging this section of the park is being carried on at the present time. This is the first and most important step in the solution of the problem, but it is by no means the last. The meadows in these parks have been heavily grazed by domestic stock, mostly horses, for years. As the lands are acquired, a range-management plan is being formulated for the restoration of the range to its former high carrying capacity.11

During the winter of 1930 aspen was extensively barked by the elk. This was the first indication that the elk herd was reaching the limit of its food supply and that range abuse and starvation were in the offing. If this is happening when there are only 350 elk in the park, it is indication that even with the addition of the valleys above mentioned there will be a definite limit to the population of this species that Rocky Mountain National Park will be able to support without endangering both park and elk. The situation will have to be carefully watched, and increase beyond the allowable maximum checked if natural balances are not effective.

To sum up, this problem is caused by failure of the park to include all the seasonal habitats of the elk. The basic cause will be largely corrected by extension of boundaries to include winter range. This will have to be followed, as a second step, by a temporary range-management plan to restore the vegetative cover on the added lands to their vigorous primitive condition. Beyond that, a third step in the form of artificial control may be necessary if the elk continue to increase without reaching a natural balance. Within an area as small as Rocky Mountain Park it is unlikely that a natural balance ean be established, hence the excess above a safety point will have to be disposed of in some way.

elk damage on aspen
FIGURE 18. – Aspen barked extensively by elk for the first time indicate that shortage of
winter forage is beginning to be felt.
Photograph taken June 24, 191, at Fall River Lodge, Rocky Mountain.
Wild Life Survey No. 1928

10 Final Report on Elk Study, Northern Yellowstone Herd, by Rush, W. M. Yellowstone Park, Wyo., 1932.

11 Report on Conditions of Portions of Elk and Deer Winier Range in Rocky Mountain National Park, by McLaughlin, John L. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo., Jan. 15, 1932.



Last Modified: Tues, Feb 1 2000 07:08:48 pm PDT

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