Monthly Archives: April 2006

No human blood found on cat: Officials believe that mountain lion attacked 7-year-old

Rocky Mountain News

By Charley Able

A necropsy found no traces of human blood on a mountain lion believed to have attacked a youngster near Boulder on April 16, a Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman said Tuesday.

Despite the inconclusive test results, DOW investigators believe the mountain lion is the same one that injured 7-year-old Shir Feldman on a trail west of Boulder as he walked with his father.

The animal was killed by a wildlife officer after it was tracked and treed about a half-mile from the site of the attack on Artist Point near the summit of Flagstaff Mountain.

The female’s carcass was examined by the Wyoming Game and Fish Wildlife Forensic lab in Laramie, but tests of 21 samples taken from the animal’s claws and face revealed no evidence of human blood, said Tyler Baskfield, DOW spokesman.

Tests on a piece of tissue found on one of the animal’s claws turned out to be inconclusive, Baskfield said.

The mountain lion was spotted about two hours after the attack within 30 yards of Artist Point. Because mountain lions are generally solitary animals and tracking dogs found no other scent trails in the area, DOW investigators think the 5-year-old, 84-pound animal attacked the boy.

The blood tests key on proteins to determine the presence and source of blood traces but Baskfield said typical mountain lion behavior, including grooming and extending claws while walking, could have removed any traces of blood.

“At this point, we believe we have been as thorough as we can be. Because of the logistics of what took place that night, we still are confident that this is the right cat, it is very probable that this is the right cat,” Baskfield said.

The necropsy revealed the mountain lion was in excellent condition and its stomach contents included the remains of a rabbit it apparently ate about five or six hours before it was killed.

That would put the animal’s last meal at or just after the time of the attack on Shir Feldman.

“It’s unusual for an older cat to get into conflicts with humans. Typically, it’s 1- to 3-year-old animals,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of the Carnivore Protection Program at Sinapu, a Boulder-based conservation group.

Female mountain lions typically send their kittens out when they are 10 to 24 months old, Keefover-Ring said. It’s while looking to establish their territory that the young cats get into conflicts with humans, she added.

The boy was hiking with his parents, Zur and Anat Feldman, his twin brother and his older brother, Tal Feldman, a University of Colorado freshman. The family lives in Rockville, Md.

The mountain lion grabbed the boy by the jaw, but the youngster’s family members immediately sprang into action, pelting the animal with sticks and rocks. The mountain lion quickly dropped the boy and ran away.

Shir Feldman was treated for what were described as serious but not life-threatening injuries, including a broken jaw, at Boulder Community Hospital. He later was transferred to Children’s Hospital in Denver. Hospital officials have declined to discuss the child’s condition or how long he was under treatment at the hospital.

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Necropsy reveals suspect lion OK: The cat believed to have injured a 7-year-old boy shows no ailment or evidence of the attack

The Denver Post

By John Ingold

The necropsy results of a female mountain lion believed to have attacked and seriously injured a young boy a week and a half ago near Boulder showed nothing wrong with the cat.

In fact, the necropsy could not even find physical evidence to prove that the 5-year-old mountain lion, killed six hours after the attack, was the culprit. Technicians with the Wyoming Game and Fish Forensic Lab found no traces of human blood on the cougar’s fur or whiskers.

Still, Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Tyler Bask- field said DOW officials are confident they got the right animal.

“There are a number of different scenarios why the boy’s blood wasn’t found on the cat,” Baskfield said. “Obviously, six hours passed between when the cat was shot and the boy was attacked. It’s still very probable that this was the cat.”

Dogs tracking the mountain lion found the scent within 30 yards of the attack site, on Flagstaff Mountain. They also found no other lion tracks in the area. The mountain lion was eventually found a half mile from the attack site, treed and shot.

Baskfield said that, with the size of a mountain lion’s range, it is unlikely two cats would be in the same area at the same time.

The necropsy found the lion had no illnesses or injuries.

David Baron, author of the mountain lion book “The Beast in the Garden,” said he isn’t surprised by the results.

“The first reaction whenever a mountain lion attacks somebody is to assume that there must be something wrong with a cat,” he said. “The experience of the last 15 years has been that they are perfectly healthy lions.”

Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of the carnivore protection program at Sinapu, a Boulder-based wildlife-advocacy group, said most attacks are by young mountain lions, making this one unusual.

The 7-year-old victim was visiting with his family from Maryland. He was released from The Children’s Hospital recently, although his family has disclosed little about his condition. Efforts to reach the family Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Tests provide no clues to why cougar attacked

Boulder Daily Camera

By Elizabeth Mattern Clark

A mountain lion that wildlife officials believe attacked a 7-year-old boy at a popular Boulder hiking spot earlier this month was a healthy adult, adept at hunting its typical prey, according to results issued Tuesday.

Two sets of laboratory tests revealed no clue as to why the animal would attack a human.

And whether wildlife officials shot the right animal isn’t settled, either.

Protein tests were “inconclusive” in determining whether the cougar that officials killed was the one that attacked and injured Shir Feldman, of Rockville, Md., on April 15. Wyoming scientists took 21 samples from the animal’s claws and mouth and did not detect any human blood, according to their report.

Still, the Colorado Division of Wildlife said it’s “confident” the 84-pound animal was the one that attacked the boy because of other evidence.

The animal was seen running across a parking lot 30 yards from the attack site two hours after the encounter, said division spokesman Tyler Baskfield. It was tracked by dogs and shot another four hours later within a half-mile of where Shir was dragged from his father’s grip.

“I think what we had here was a case of the cat coming back around to check on its ‘kill,'” Baskfield said. “It’s known as fidelity, and it’s typical mountain lion behavior. I’m sure it’s possible, but it would be very rare for another mountain lion to wander that close to the kill site.”

The cougar had hours to groom itself — destroying blood evidence from the attack — before it was shot, Baskfield said.

Shir’s jaw was broken as the cougar’s mouth clamped down on his face during the attack at Artist Point, near the summit of Flagstaff Mountain. His family chased the animal and fought it off with rocks and sticks.

In a necropsy report, Colorado State University scientists said the mountain lion was a 5-year-old animal whose body was in “excellent” condition before it was shot. The cat was “doing quite well foraging” for its typical prey based on the rabbit remnants in its stomach and fat on its body, the report said.

“No specific lesions were found in this animal to give a clue on why she attacked this young boy,” the CSU report said.

Rabies tests were negative.

Officials previously said they thought the animal was younger. Juveniles are more likely to attack humans because they are less-established hunters, they said.

That it was 5 years old surprised Wendy Keefover-Ring, spokeswoman for Sinapu, a Boulder-based carnivore-protection group.

“It’s a big surprise to everyone that this is an older animal that probably had very good hunting skills,” she said. “It’s inexplicable. It’s just a rare, freak thing.”

There have been two confirmed fatal mountain lion attacks in Colorado’s history, and a third was suspected. The April 15 attack was the first requiring medical attention in Boulder County history, officials said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Elizabeth Mattern Clark at (303) 473-1351 or clarke@dailycamera.com.

Elk in the cross hairs

Sharpshooters eyed as way to manage population in park

By Deborah Frazier, Rocky Mountain News

Sharpshooters would kill as many as 1,800 of Rocky Mountain National Park’s estimated 3,000 elk under a plan favored by park biologists.

The herds have tripled in size, from about 1,000 animals in 1990, and have severely overgrazed the park, said Therese Johnson, a park biologist who headed the elk-control study.

Hunting is prohibited within park boundaries and the elk have no natural predators, she said.

The park and its expanding elk population span the Continental Divide between Estes Park and Grand Lake. Most of the elk winter east of the park, roaming as far away as Loveland.

The two-year study by park biologists offered five alternatives: dramatic use of sharpshooters to reduce the herds by 50 percent or more; no management; fertility control; limited use of sharpshooters; and the reintroduction of wolves.

Under the option favored by the researchers, sharpshooters from the park service, other government agencies and private contractors would remove 200 to 700 elk a year for four years.

For the next 16 years, shooters would cull 25 to 160 elk each year, Johnson said. The herds would be kept at 1,200 to 1,700 animals.

“We recognize the problem in Rocky Mountain National Park,” said Mark Armstrong of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates scientific management of elk.

“We know that some of the best minds in wildlife biology have been working on a solution for years,” he said.

In the 1960s, sharpshooters were used to control elk in several national parks, including Rocky Mountain National Park, Johnson said.

Sharpshooters are now used to reduce mule-deer populations in eastern parks and wild pigs in Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park, she said.

The preferred sharpshooter alternative would also redistribute elk more evenly in the popular park, and a related proposal would build fences around 545 acres of aspen groves, Johnson said.

Wolves might be used if the sharpshooters and redistribution aren’t effective and if other agencies agree, Johnson said.

She said the wolves would be intensively managed, and animals that cause problems outside the park could be shot or trapped.

The state and groups representing ranchers and farmers oppose wolf reintroduction in Colorado.

Sinapu, a nonprofit group that wants wolves reintroduced in Colorado, said that intensively managed wolves won’t help the park’s burgeoning elk numbers.

“Wolves need to act naturally, and they won’t be able to do that if they are confined to the park,” said Rob Edwards, director of carnivore restoration for Sinapu. “When they are seasonally unemployed during the winter, they will move outside the park.”

Several hearings will be set to discuss the elk-management alternatives, with the deadline for public comment set for July 4. The National Park Service will release its final decision in early 2007.

If the preferred option is approved, the culling would take place after dark using night-vision spotting scopes and rifles with noise-suppression devices.

Thinning the herd

IN ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

  • Number of elk the park habitat can support 1,200 to 2,100
  • Recommended number of elk in park habitat 1,200 to 1,700
  • Elk population in the park
  • 1968: 400 to 500
  • 2005: 3,000 to 4,000

WHAT’S NEXT?

Public comment period lasts until July 4
Final decision will be made in early 2007
E-mail comments to: romo_superintendent@nps.gov
Fax comments to: 970-586-1397
Mail comments to: Rocky Mountain National Park Headquarters 1000 Highway 36, Estes Park, CO 80517

Trimming the herd

Five proposals on table to reduce animal numbers in national park

By Jason Williams, For the Camera

In Rocky Mountain National Park and neighboring Estes Park, elk long have been a tourist draw and symbol of the region. But now numbering as many as 3,000, or nearly twice their optimal density, they are munching sensitive willow and aspen and damaging the park’s habitats.

Since 1969, the elk have multiplied unchecked. But that’s probably going to change.

An updated draft of the Elk and Vegetation Management Plan, nearly a decade in the making, was released Monday. The park’s preferred option includes shooting up to 700 elk annually for four years to quickly achieve a target population of between 1,200 and 2,100. The herd then would be maintained by shooting between 25 and 150 elk each year for the following 16 years.

Plans could include fencing around a possible 1,405 acres of sensitive willow and aspen habitat, as well as herding and dispersing elk with various techniques.

The preferred plan also includes the possible introduction of a limited numbers of gray wolves to redistribute the elk herd if other human efforts are unsuccessful.

If wolves are used to distribute the elk, initially four and up to 14 wolves, possibly two packs, would be “intensively managed” and monitored by park service staff or contractors.

“The public has been wanting details for three years — now here are those details,” said Kyle Patterson, spokeswoman for the park.

Though the preferred plan includes the potential for introducing wolves to the park, the director of carnivore restoration for a Boulder wildlife group says the plan still falls far short.

“Clearly, if they were listening to what the science is telling us, then they would be calling for weaving wolves back into the landscape on a regional scale,” said Rob Edward, of Sinapu, which promotes restoring carnivores to their native habitats in the Southern Rockies. “Instead, you have a document that makes a nod to wolf [predation], but does not have the political chutzpah to do that.”

Edward said the plan would require tightly controlled, essentially semi-captive wolves, and it would be unlikely to achieve the needs of the park.

The draft outlines five possible alternatives to address the burgeoning elk population. Other plans include a more moderate and gradual lethal reduction of the elk herd or giving the elk birth control.

“All of the alternatives have a component of lethal reduction and a component of redistribution,” said Therese Johnson, a biologist at the Park.

The draft also reserves the option of taking no action at all, and leaving the elk population and vegetation to natural variables such as weather and migration.

Estes Park Mayor John Baudek would prefer a less-aggressive approach to culling the elk herd.

“I’d like it to be a little more gradual,” Baudek said, noting that natural causes may decrease the elk numbers.

If wolves were to be introduced to the park, Baudek said he would want it to be very limited, and he would want to make sure the wolves were monitored closely. But he also acknowledged that the restored wolf population in Yellowstone had been a boon to the regional economy.

“From a tourist standpoint it could be interesting and positive,” Baudek said.

The plan will be open to public comment through July 4.

Elk kills eyed to restore park balance

By David Olinger,
Denver Post Staff Writer
DenverPost.com

To save aspen, willows and beavers, a Rocky Mountain National Park plan calls for rangers using guns with silencers to shoot hundreds of elk at night.

“Lethal reduction” – the preferred option in a plan for dealing with elk issued by the park Monday – would cull up to 700 animals a year.

The night shooting would minimize disturbances to visitors who come to hike the park’s rugged trails and watch the elk graze its valleys, park officials said.

“It sounds like a very tricky operation to do successfully,” said Steve Smith, the Wilderness Society’s assistant regional director.

“I will be curious,” Smith said, “to see how local people respond to the notion of firearms being discharged at night.”

The park also could erect fences to protect 545 acres of young aspen trees from being eaten by elk.

The culling and fencing are key elements in the plan to reduce the size of an elk population that has grown in the absence of predators and ravaged plant communities needed by other animals.

The swelling herds have been particularly hard on beavers, which feed on and build dams from riparian willow shrubs.

The beaver population has plummeted in the park, a decline linked, in part, to elk grazing in the willows.

Some environmental groups question why the elk’s natural predator – the wolf – was not chosen to restore the park’s natural balance.


The plan called wolves “the environmentally preferred alternative.”

“Using wolves really fits the mission of a national park,” said the Wilderness Society’s Smith.

Sinapu, a Boulder-based wildlife-advocacy group, called for conservationists to “howl for wolves” as a better alternative.

Wolves make elk more wary and mobile. “The elk aren’t spending half a day grazing everything within a neck’s distance to the ground,” said Rob Edward, Sinapu’s director of carnivore restoration.

National Park Service officials emphasize that their preferred alternative plan is preliminary and will be modified in response to public comments.

They also say that none of the other alternatives they considered to reduce the herd, from introducing wolves to elk birth control, would have succeeded without killing elk as well.

“We’ve already had a large decline in aspen and willow in high elk-use areas,” said Therese Johnson, the park biologist leading its management plan.

Without killing some elk, she said, “we’d be converting willow and aspen stands, which support a higher level of wildlife diversity, into grasslands.”

The park’s “lethal reduction” plan allows for flexibility. It calls for shooting 200 to 700 elk for four years, based on whether factors such as reproduction rates, weather and hunting outside the park affect its yearly elk population. Elk would then be killed at lower rates, 25 to 150 a year, for the next 16 years.

The overall goal: Reducing the elk numbers, now ranging from 2,200 to 3,000, to a sustainable population of 1,200 to 1,700.

If the night shooting doesn’t work, the plan allows for other killing methods: guns without silencers, anesthesia darts “followed by lethal injection” and wolves.

Johnson said relying on wolves alone would be impractical.

“It would become very difficult to implement,” she said. “Wolves are a wide-ranging species, and the park is small.”

Under the park plan, some carcasses would be left in the woods for animals that eat carrion. Some of the meat would be donated if tests showed it was free of chronic wasting disease.

The park has not decided how to distribute the meat.

The Park Service says the public can review the plan online and make comments at parkplanning.nps.gov.

RMNP plans to cull elk herd

Too many animals threaten vegetation

By Douglas Crowl
The Daily Times-Call

ESTES PARK — The regal elk herd that gives Rocky Mountain National Park its soul and the Estes Valley a large part of its economic vitality will be thinned by sharpshooters under a long-term plan favored by federal officials to protect the park’s habitat.

The culling effort is the “preferred alternative” of five management options for reducing elk numbers in the Estes Valley under a draft 20-year elk- and vegetation-
management plan released Monday.

Park biologists believe between 2,200 and 3,000 elk live in the park during at least some of the year. They would like to cut the population down to 1,200 to 1,700 animals in four years to keep the oversized herd from eating new-growth willow and aspen trees, an important component of the ungulates’ diet but also vital to species such as songbirds.

Hunting is banned in national parks, which has allowed the herd living in and around Rocky to reach densities of as much as 260 elk per square mile, “the highest concentrations ever documented for a free-ranging population in the Rocky Mountains,” the Environmental Impact Statement for the management plan said.

To solve the problem, the park has proposed using staff or a contractor to cut the elk population in order to stop vegetation damage. Under the recommended alternative, between 200 and 700 elk would be shot annually, primarily using rifles, until the target population is reached.

Along with the culling, the park’s preferred plan also includes fencing off 586 acres of willow and aspen groves as protection from the browsing elk.

Park officials began working on the plan nearly three years ago after studies showed that new-growth willow and aspen trees was declining unnaturally in the park.

In Estes Park — whose economy hinges on tourists, many of whom visit to view the elk during the fall rut and to listen to the their piercing bugles — officials say they understand that the elk herd has outgrown the habitat’s capacity to support it.

Mayor John Baudek said the town needs the elk to be around but also depends on a healthy herd.

“The problem is that there is so many elk, it’s killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” Baudek said.

He said the town has worked closely with park officials and supports some type of herd reduction, although he would like the plan to be implemented more gradually than the four years under the recommended alternative.

While that option shies away from a separate alternative that called for re-introducing wolves as a natural, but intensively managed, form of elk population control, it does not entirely dismiss the role of the carnivores, killed off in Colorado in the 1930s.

While pro-carnivore and anti-hunting interests strongly supported the wolf proposal, it met formidable criticism from advocates of agriculture and other land-use interests.

According to park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson, wolves preying on elk herds and affecting their migration around the park could still be considered among the viable “elk-redistribution techniques” included in the preferred alternative.

“This is a 20-year plan, and a lot can change in the 20 years,” Patterson said.

Pro-carnivore group Sinapu released a statement Monday saying that the park buckled under political pressure and ignored science saying the wolves were the best option.

As proposed in the preferred alternative, elk culling would take place mostly at night with the use of spotlights, night-vision firearms and scopes, laser sights and silencers to cut down on public exposure to the program.

“This is strictly taking management action inside the park. … There’s nothing recreational about it; we are managing numbers,” park biologist Therese Johnson said.

A temporary capture facility such as a “corral trap” also could be used to herd animals to help obtain objective numbers, according to the plan.

“Elk could be attracted to the facility using bait,” the plan states. “Alternatively, trained herding dogs, riders on horseback, people on foot with noisemakers or visual devices, or helicopters could direct elk to the facility.”

The elk then would be shot, killed by a penetrating bolt similar to those used to kill cattle, or killed by lethal injection.

Once the target population is established after four years, another 25 to 150 elk would be killed annually for the next 16 years to maintain the population, under the preferred alternative.

All the elk killed will be tested for chronic wasting disease, providing the park with data on the prevalence of the lethal ailment, Johnson said.

Meat from culled elk that tested negative for CWD likely would be donated, Johnson said.

The public can comment in the plan during public meetings slated for late May, and written comments will be accepted until July 4. Park officials will make a final decision on the plan, choosing either the preferred alternative or one of the other management options, by the end of the year, Patterson said.

The park could begin implementing the plan by next summer.

Alternatives to culling elk herds in RMNP

Alternative 1

No action

Alternative 2, preferred

Use lethal reduction of elk by agency personnel to reach a population target of 1,200 to 1,700 elk within the first four years of the plan, followed by lower levels of lethal reduction during the next 16 years to maintain this population size. This alternative includes the use of elk-redistribution techniques to move and disperse elk and up to 545 acres of fencing in aspen communities to exclude elk. Adaptive management is built into the process so that in later stages of implementation of this alternative, and given appropriate interagency cooperation, the release of intensively managed wolves could be considered as a potential redistribution technique.

Alternative 3

Rely on gradual lethal reduction spread over 20 years to reduce the herd to a population target of 1,600 to 2,100 elk. This alternative includes the use of elk-redistribution techniques to move and disperse elk, and up to 1405 acres of fencing in aspen and montane riparian willow communities to exclude elk.

Alternative 4

Use a fertility-control agent and lethal reduction spread over 20 years to reduce the herd to a population target of 1,600 to 2,100 elk. This alternative includes the use of elk-redistribution techniques to move and disperse elk, and up to 1405 acres of fencing in aspen and montane riparian willow communities to exclude elk.

Alternative 5

Involve the release of a limited number of wolves to be intensively managed and maintained in the park, and lethal reduction by agency staff to reduce the herd to a population target of 1,600 to 2,100 elk within the first four years of the plan, followed by lower levels of lethal reduction during the next 16 years to maintain the population between 1,200 and 2,100 elk. This alternative relies on a few intensively managed wolves to redistribute elk, but also includes the potential to use up to 545 acres of fencing in aspen communities to exclude elk as needed.