Charlie Wick: Hungry black bears are partially to blame for declining elk population
While not a resident of Steamboat Springs but an occasional visitor, I was reading of the proposed trails around Steamboat Springs and potentially not wanting to proceed due to a decline of the elk population.
All of the decline of elk and deer populations in the mountains of Colorado are being “blamed” on mankind’s activities, in this case, mountain trails and their use. The issue is much larger.
Black bear and mountain lion populations are increasing in Colorado’s mountains while elk and deer populations are declining. Black bears are omnivores — eating both plants and meats — and mountain lions are carnivorous — eating meat only.
Black bears particularly — coming out of spring hibernation hungry — like to eat newborn and young elk. Black bears have the best sense of smell of all terrestrial animals in North America and will make a beeline of miles to locate meat, in this case, young newborn elk calves. Black bears also have a hungry den of young to feed, so much protein is needed and the grasses, wild nuts, berries, tubers and abundant insects are not yet available as a sufficient food source.
Just look at the Evergreen and Estes Park areas where elk and growing human populations have co-existed for decades, and Evergreen has had extensive trail systems for decades as well.
And, do not expect the Colorado Division of Wildlife to recognize the fast-growing black bear population in Colorado as a reason for elk decline in the mountains, just as they will not recognize the growing mountain lion population for the deer population decline. They would have to do something about it if they ever recognized these areas as problems, so they won’t.
However, for rational and fact-based public policy decisions to be made, they and/or other experts need to recognize these factors, as co-existence with our other natural species is important, and fact-based decision making with appropriate mitigations is most important.
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