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Contact: Kyle Patterson, 970-586-1363
The Final Elk and Vegetation Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Rocky Mountain National Park was released today. The result of seven years of research, followed by four years of planning, the plan will use adaptive management principles and guide park management for the next 20 years. It can be accessed at: https://www.nps.gov/romo/parkmgmt/elkvegetation.htm
Research has shown that the elk herd in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Valley, is larger, less migratory and more concentrated than it would be under natural conditions. As a result, willow and aspen stands are declining, depriving other wildlife of the important habitat they need.
The final plan analyzes five alternatives to manage elk and vegetation within the park. Alternative One calls for no action. The “action” alternatives (Alternatives Two through Five) incorporate adaptive management and monitoring to determine the level and intensity of management actions. These actions include reducing the elk population, fencing, and redistributing the elk. Population numbers would be estimated annually. The number of animals to be removed would be determined based on the most current population estimates and hunter harvest outside the park. If the elk population is within the target range and vegetation management objectives are being met, no lethal reduction activities would take place.
The National Park Service (NPS) carefully considered environmental and other relevant concerns presented by agencies, organizations, and individuals on the five alternatives. Alternative Three, the preferred alternative in the final plan, would use a variety of conservation tools including lethal reduction (culling) and redistribution of elk, fencing, and vegetation restoration techniques. Alternative Three was selected as the preferred alternative because it relies on gradual lethal reduction of elk, which is less expensive and would minimize impacts on visitors compared to intensive culling, as proposed in the draft plan. The target elk population is the high end of the natural range, between 1,600 and 2,100 animals. Reductions would be carried out by NPS staff and its authorized agents. To the extent possible carcasses and/or meat would be donated through an organized program to eligible recipients, including members of tribes, based on informed consent and pursuant to applicable public health guidelines. This alternative would also include redistribution techniques, such as herding and aversive conditioning, and installing temporary fences in aspen and montane riparian willow habitat to meet vegetation objectives.
In the first several years of implementing the plan, in conjunction with culling of elk, the National Park Service would opportunistically conduct studies to evaluate procedures for testing live elk for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and the effectiveness of a new experimental multi-year fertility control agent. In the first year up to 120 female elk would be captured, tested for CWD and administered the fertility control agent (Gonacon). Any elk which tested positive for CWD would be lethally removed from the population, thereby contributing to the annual population reduction target. Over the next three years elk population reduction would gradually remove study elk and the pregnancy and CWD status would be evaluated. Information gained from these studies could contribute to the advancement of a test for CWD in live elk and a fertility control agent that is more logistically feasible than those currently available.
According to Superintendent Vaughn Baker, “The final plan balances the most important management issues with the many differing viewpoints expressed and the purpose, mission, and management policies of the National Park Service. As a result, we believe the final plan provides us with guidance and direction for managing the elk and their habitat for the next twenty years.”