Park considers letting wolves handle elk problem


The problem: elk chewing the bejeebers out of Rocky Mountain National Park.

One solution: adding a pack of wolves to the park.

Another problem: wolves wandering into nearby Boulder and Loveland, Colo.

Still, the National Park Service is slated this week to propose, as one alternative, adding a pack of wolves, outfitted with radio collars, to chase the elk herds ravaging the park’s aspen and willow stands.

Biologists already have warned that keeping wolves in the 226,000-acre park may be next to impossible.

“I can’t conceive of a way to keep wolves in the park,” said University of Minnesota biologist and wolf expert David Mech. “I just don’t know how one would do that.”

Park Service authorities concede the idea is controversial. “One biologist told us, ‘If you do this, prepare to have your world turned upside down,’ ” said Therese Johnson, a park management biologist.

Wolves were successfully reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, but Yellowstone is almost 10 times larger than Colorado’s Rocky Mountain.

“You can’t keep them from going,” said Michael Phillips, who headed the Yellowstone red wolf program. “The question is will they stay in the park long enough to have an impact on the elk herd?”

Wolves have been known to wander 500 miles in search of a home. Estes Park is just outside the park, and Boulder, Loveland and some Denver suburbs are about 50 miles away.

Park authorities stress that they are not trying to reintroduce wolves to Colorado and are using the predators only as a wildlife management tool.

Under the park service’s wolf alternative, only a few wolves would be released in the rugged terrain. The animals would be under constant surveillance and would be trapped and returned to the park if they left.

Sharpshooters also would be employed to bring the elk down from 3,000 animals to between 1,200 and 2,100.

Details of the proposals are scheduled to be released this week.

The service, however, can’t seem to please anyone. Boulder-based Sinapu, an advocate of returning wolves to Colorado, also is criticizing the plan.

“Wolves are not a tool,” Sinapu spokesman Rob Edward said. “We should not be treating them as some sort of pest-control device.”

This article also appeared in the following newspapers: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Helena Independent Record, The Casper Star Tribune,


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