The Culling Fields

Rocky Mountain National Park employs sharpshooters to help thin overgrown elk herds

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In the coming weeks, hundreds of elk will die, shot by hunters set loose in Rocky Mountain National Park. But wait: Before you picket the Department of the Interior or cry out for mercy on behalf of the nation’s third-largest ungulate, you should know that this is actually a good thing.

In the absence of predators, the elk herds in Rocky swelled to between 2,800 and 3,500 members in the late 90s—far more than the park can support. While numbers have dropped since, it’s not enough, and the extra elk remain a serious threat to new-growth aspen and willows, which they’ve decimated all over the park.

After giving brief consideration to introducing a wolf population into the park (we all know how non-controversialthat would be), park officials settled on recruiting 22 hunting volunteers who will work with rangers to shoot up to 100 female elk. Park rangers are quick to point out that these highly-trained “sharpshooters” are engaging in park-sanctioned culling, not recreational hunting of any kind (which is of course illegal).

Nevertheless, someone besides baby trees will benefit: Meat from the culled elk will be available to the public via a lottery system (sorry, game eaters—it’s closed), and some will go to feed a captive mountain lion under study by park biologists.

The official culling day hasn’t been set, but will happen in the coming weeks depending on weather and volunteer availability. It’s probably safe to assume a certain lucky mountain lion hopes that day comes sooner rather than later.

—Ted Alvarez

Elk Culling at RMNP Nearing (Ft. Collins Coloradoan)

Image Credit: Ingritaylar