Elk Herds in Colorado Face Potential Danger Amid Outdoor Recreation Boom

by Megan Molseed
(Getty Images)

Colorado officials are reporting that a large number of the most popular recreation trails and recreation locations overlap with as much as 40 % of the elk’s most important habitats. This report comes as concerns that this recreation boom could negatively impact the health and well-being of the state’s world-class elk herd.

Colorado Elk Face Major Challenges Amid Outdoor Recreation Boom

A recent analysis performed by officials notes that the Colorado elk herds are facing increased pressure as humans continue to encroach on areas used by the animal. These areas are important to the health of the elk herds because the animals use them to migrate, while seeking out food sources, and finding shelter. These landscapes are also important for the elk’s safety during their mating and spawning seasons.

A report from The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, notes that many of these important areas are now becoming part of a continuing recreation boom throughout the state which includes 40,000 miles of mapped trails. These trails are becoming favorites for hikers, bikers, ATV riders, and many more.

These overlaps take over as much as 40% of the elk habitats throughout the state. This can result in the animals avoiding as many as 8 million acres of necessary habitat. Greatly undermining the health of the world’s biggest herd of elk.

“Elk seem particularly like a canary in a coal mine for trail-based disturbance,” notes one wildlife biologist. “They seem particularly sensitive to trail use.”

“I think the most important message is that there are impacts to all of our recreational pursuits,” says Liz Rose, the Colorado field representative for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. Furthermore, experts note that while these encroaching recreational areas are a concern for the adult elk, it is also negatively impacting the elk calves who are finding it hard to survive in these conditions.

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Of course, these reports also acknowledge the importance of these recreational opportunities for the state’s economy. Recreation opportunities in the great outdoors are big business in Colorado. The revenue created via hunting, fishing, and tourism generates billions of dollars a year and supports job opportunities for hundreds of thousands of workers.

“There are options agencies can take in planning to make sure that we’re not jeopardizing the long-term stability of the game herds in Colorado,” Rose explains. “That we’re able to sustain the outdoor recreation industry, economy, and game herds.”

Some recommendations include taking care to avoid some of the well-known elk habitats when planning a trail opportunity. Suggestions also note that limiting road and trail usage at certain times of year will help with the issues as well.