Information session will address winter impacts to big game herds
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — After watching elk grow weak and die during last year’s record-breaking snowfall, some residents of the Steamboat Springs region decided to take matters into their own hands.
They started feeding the elk, which may have saved a few individual animals, but can cause problems for the larger population, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists. The best way to ensure healthy big game populations is with large-scale habitat improvement projects, the biologists said. Read an in-depth story on this issue in Steamboat Today.
“Last winter, due to the deep snow and difficult conditions, we had elk move into town and many people saw firsthand the impact an especially harsh winter can have on wildlife,” said Danielle Domson, wildlife manager for the Steamboat Springs South District. “The situation caused some concern, but we want to explain to everyone that what they saw was actually a natural part of an elk’s life cycle. Colorado Parks and Wildlife information big game management is online here.
To that end, the agency will partner with the U.S. Forest Service to offer an Oct. 20 elk symposium, aimed at educating residents about natural wildlife cycles, and what the public can do to ensure elk have the best chance of survival. The session is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.
Although feeding elk during rough winters may seem like an obvious solution to prevent starvation, wildlife managers remind people that the long-term effects on the entire population is of primary concern and artificial feeding can lead to serious problems, including increasing the risk of spreading disease or disturbing the natural herd distribution.
Domson said she received numerous appeals from citizens urging managers take action to feed starving elk. She says that she understands that the citizens’ concern was the well-being of the animals, but after careful consideration, wildlife managers decided that not interfering with natural processes was the most biologically-sound solution.
“Unfortunately, we had people who took matters into their own hands and began feeding the elk themselves,” Domson said. “They meant well, but they violated the law and they put the larger herd at risk.”
Area wildlife manager Jim Haskins said he understands the reaction many people had as they watched elk — many of them calves — succumb to the elements. But saving a few individual animals at the expense of a larger population is not responsible wildlife management, he said.
“We certainly are concerned when any animal suffers, but we also need to look at the bigger picture, and I hope this symposium will help people understand that there are broader considerations,” he said.
Among the various topics, wildlife managers will also offer advice regarding the things people can do to help elk survive the winter, such as the importance of staying out of areas under elk winter closures, and the progress of recent habitat improvements projects funded by Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Habitat Partnership Program.
“Our research has shown that landscape-scale habitat improvement is one of the most effective ways to increase survival, and we want people to learn about these projects,” continued Domson.
The symposium is open to the public and everyone will have the opportunity to directly ask questions about the various issues and concerns, including damage caused by elk during last year’s winter.
Contact: Colorado Parks and Wildlife Steamboat Springs Office – 970-870-2197