Where Have All the Elk Gone? Development Drives Elk Population Declines in the Roaring Fork and Eagle Valleys


Denver, CO – In response to the ongoing decline over recent decades in the elk population in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys, Rocky Mountain Wild has published a report titled Evaluating Landscape Connectivity and Habitat Fragmentation Effects on Elk in the Roaring Fork and Eagle Valleys. The report confirms that increased development in the area, which includes Aspen and Vail, has played a major role in the declining elk population.

The report describes Rocky Mountain Wild’s study of the factors possibly affecting elk population from 1980 to 2018, including hunting, weather extremes, food availability, and landscape changes caused by development. Although other factors played a small role, development was by far the most important cause of elk population decline. Increased development has led to large habitat areas being divided into small “islands” of habitat, and has also made moving between those areas more difficult for elk. The effect has been especially strong in lower elevation winter habitat, which is critical to elk survival.

Report author Paul Millhouser notes, “Elk in this area have long been subject to pressure from human development and recreation, and by 2001 that pressure reached a level that was high enough to have a substantial negative effect on their reproduction. Unless action is taken to relieve that pressure, elk are unlikely to come close to their former numbers and may well decline further.”

Because so much winter habitat has already been subject to winter development, the options to stabilize the elk population are limited. “The remaining intact elk winter habitat in the area should be considered a precious resource and protected from further development. There also needs to be consideration of expanding limits on recreation in some areas of the White River National Forest at times of year when elk are under stress,” says Tehri Parker, Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Wild.

Paul Millhouser adds, “We also need to gain a better understanding of the amount and type of recreational activities happening in the forest. Although Colorado Parks & Wildlife can provide some information regarding hunting, the Forest Service has almost no data about how many people visit for other forms of recreation, what they do, and where within the forest they go. Responsible management requires the best available science and data.”

Full Report: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1qAuyd7BEMMlYcGFDlvKCOJU2V12hM6os/view
Summary: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-Yk3vbzonEN_IzRQLVVqyTNu8gWnEIyl/view


Media Contact:

Paul Millhouser, Rocky Mountain Wild, paul@rockymountainwild.org or 303-351-1020.

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