In an effort to streamline its herd management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is seeking approval for 14 elk herd management plans in the southwest region of Colorado, as well as 16 deer herd management plans in the northwest part of the state.
CPW develops herd management plans for a number of big game species, including bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, bears and mountain lions. The elk herd management plans include data on each herd’s size, sex ration (the number of bulls per 100 cows) as well as calf survival.
Stakeholders local to each herd have already contributed input to the proposals, which are now up for another round of public comment before CPW staff deliver the plans to the Parks and Wildlife Commission in January 2023 for final comment and approval.
Eleven of the plans were approved as recently as 2020 and are up for extension through 2033.
The three herd management plans that have been revised apply to herds E-20, E-40 and E-43, which respectively reside on the Uncompahgre Plateau, in the Paradox valley and the East Gunnison Basin. The current herd management plans for those herds date back to 2006, 2008 and 2001, respectively.
CPW Senior Wildlife Biologist Jamin Grigg said having all 14 herd management plans on the same schedule will streamline the process of developing new goals for the elk population and allow for a more efficient management of all big game.
“For those three elk herds, the previous objectives were based on somewhat outdated population models,” Grigg said. “And we just feel like we have some better information and better population modeling techniques in place at this point. So it's really not proposing any big changes in terms of current management. It's more just getting those population objectives and sex ratio objectives more in line with our current understanding and our current population models.”
The current combined population estimate for the southwest elk herds is 122,000 elk, down from an estimated all-time high of 140,000-145,000 around the turn of the millennium.
Grigg explained that at that time, private landowners were concerned about the effects of such a large elk population on their property. CPW culled the population by intentionally harvesting female elk.
“Since that time period, we've also seen a real reduction in calf survival, especially in Southwest Colorado,” Grigg said. “A lot of that really correlates to a 20-year drought that we're in. Calf survival is heavily correlated with precipitation, especially summer precipitation.”
The extent of the population decline was unintentional, Grigg said, and CPW is now trying to increase herd size very slightly within those three herds. The 14 herds in the southwest of the state are composed of an estimated 122,000 elk, representing nearly 44% of the statewide total population estimate of 280,000 elk.
Three herds in the Durango area – E-30, E-31 and E-24 – all have critically low calf-to-cow ratios of 25-30 calves per 100 cows.
“Those three all have herd management plans that were updated two years ago, and we feel comfortable with the population objectives proposed in those plans,” Grigg said. “We're actively trying to increase those populations and essentially doing that by limiting archery hunting pressure and limiting cow harvest throughout those herds.”
Public comments will be accepted until Dec. 20 and can be submitted to Grigg via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.