Operation Estes Storm

Park Service releases controversial plan to slaughter elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, eschews wolves

The National Park Service today released a final plan to use sharpshooters to kill thousands of elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, ignoring important lessons learned in Yellowstone National Park. The plan calls for sharpshooters and other unnatural management activities to be used to reduce and redistribute elk in the Park instead of considering wolf reintroduction.

"Today is a sad day for Rocky Mountain National Park," said Rob Edward, the Director of Carnivore Restoration for Sinapu. "Today, the Park Service let politics and timidity triumph over science and common sense," said Edward, referring to the fact that wolves released into Yellowstone National Park had done--in less than a decade--what the Park Service plans to do in Rocky Mountain National Park over many years using sharpshooters.

Edward stated that Sinapu and Forest Guardians intend to sue the Park Service over the plan, and said that other litigation is presently in the works regarding the National Park Service's refusal to restore wolves as part of the agency's legal mandate. The two groups filed a notice in November with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and National Park Service Director Mary Bomar indicating their intent to sue over the National Park Service's lack of planning for wolf recovery within Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. The notice gives the government 60 days to respond to the claims raised.

"The managers of our federal lands must be good stewards of the wildlife on those lands," said Edward. He stated the Endangered Species Act makes very clear that federal land management agencies must act to further the conservation of endangered species. "Why the government would choose to spend millions of dollars and turn our national park into a nocturnal shooting range for a problem that should be solved eloquently, by wolves, is puzzling," said Edward.

John Horning, Executive Director of Forest Guardians in Santa Fe, underscored the need for the Park Service to be proactive on wolf recovery. "The vegetation of Rocky Mountain National Park is being rapidly depleted by scores of elk, and the Park Service's plan is to have sharpshooters kill thousands of these elk under the cover of darkness," said Horning. "Yet, as we've seen in Yellowstone, reintroducing wolves to the Park can quickly and permanently restore the balance of nature and bring the entire ecosystem back to life." Horning pointed to published scientific information from Yellowstone that shows that native plants regenerate more quickly if elk are kept on the move by wolves, and that culling elk is not necessary if wolves are present.

Edward indicated that the plan to cull elk in the park would cost millions of dollars and stands little chance of long-term success.

The Endangered Species Act's Section 7 requires federal agencies to conserve federally protected species, including taking all measures possible to achieve species recovery. Horning and Edward agreed that the National Park Service is missing a perfect opportunity to meet two conservation objectives under the present plan: restoring wolves and protecting the Park's plants from sedentary elk.

--Forest Guardians