Southwest Region's Elk Herd Management Plans now open to public comment

Oak

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DURANGO, Colo. – Colorado Parks and Wildlife seeks input on draft Herd Management Plans (HMPs) for 14 elk herds occurring in southwest Colorado. The draft plans are now open to public review and comment through Dec. 20.

These herds include the E-05 West Elk Mountains, E-11 Sand Dunes, E-20 Uncompahgre Plateau, E-24 Disappointment Creek, E-25 Lake Fork, E-26 Saguache, E-30 Hermosa, E-31 San Juan Basin, E-32 Lower Rio Grande, E-34 Upper Rio Grande, E-35 Cimarron, E-40 Paradox, E-43 East Gunnison Basin and E-55 Northern San Luis Valley Floor elk herds.

CPW is proposing extensions of previously-approved management objectives for all but three of these herds. Extensions are recommended when CPW staff believe a continuation of the previous objectives, course of management actions and strategies are sufficient for a given herd. CPW is not proposing any changes to objectives or management approach for 11 HMPs, all of which were approved by the Parks and Wildlife Commission within the last few years.

CPW is proposing new management objectives for the Uncompahgre Plateau, Paradox and East Gunnison Basin herds, which have current management objectives more than 10 years old.

“The proposed herd management plans will guide management of the 14 elk herds in the Southwest Region for a 10-year period through 2033,” said CPW Senior Wildlife Biologist Jamin Grigg, “These 14 elk herds contain an estimated 122,000 elk, representing nearly 44% of the statewide total population estimate of 280,000 elk.”

The primary purpose of HMPs is to establish management objectives for each herd in terms of a desired population size range and sex ratio. The management alternatives selected in these plans will drive annual elk license setting decisions. License setting and the resultant annual harvest modulate elk population numbers to meet population and sex ratio objectives.

Each plan also describes additional strategies and techniques that will be used to achieve the desired herd objectives. The goal for the 10-year term of these plans is to manage to the most appropriate population level within the objective range based on climatic patterns, habitat conditions, forage availability and public desires.

Here is a closer look at the three Data Analysis Units where revisions to HMPs are proposed:

Uncompahgre Plateau

The last HMP for E-20, which includes Game Management Units 61 and 62 within parts of Delta, Mesa, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel Counties, was approved in 2006.

The plan called for a population objective of 8,500 to 9,500 elk. The 2021 population estimate for this herd was 12,500.

CPW’s preferred alternative for this herd is to increase the population objective to 11,000 to 15,000 elk and to increase the bull to cow ratio from 16-20 bulls per 100 cows to 20-25 bulls per 100 cows.

“With limited carrying capacity because of drought, poor winter range conditions, increasing recreation and the potential for increased game damage if a hard winter occurs, CPW plans to stabilize this herd near current population levels,” said CPW wildlife biologist Alyssa Kircher. “The proposed objective range of 11,000 to 15,000 allows for management flexibility if the drought lessens, allowing range conditions to improve and to support more elk on the landscape.

“Increasing this herd more than within the proposed objective range would likely negatively impact the already compromised range condition and increase game damage complaints. Decreasing this herd was not desired by CPW staff or stakeholders. Stabilizing this herd balances the need for maintaining quality habitat during drought conditions yet still allowing for similar hunting opportunities as in recent years.”

Paradox

The last HMP for E-40, which includes Game Management Unit 60 within parts of Montrose and Mesa Counties along the Utah state line, was approved in 2008.

The previous population objective was 900 to 1,100 elk. The 2021 population estimate was 1,400.

CPW’s preferred alternative is to increase the population objective to 1,200 to 1,600 elk and to keep the status quo sex ratio of 25-30 bulls per 100 cows.

“With limited carrying capacity because of drought, poor conditions on winter range and pending CWD spread, increasing this herd is not logical,” Kircher said. “Game damage would likely escalate in Paradox Valley with an increasing elk herd, and CPW would like to limit big game impacts on private land. Decreasing this herd would be difficult because of constant variation in herd size and the lack of demand for limited licenses. Stabilizing the herd to the best extent possible will keep game damage complaints low, CWD prevalence in check and maximize hunting opportunities.”

East Gunnison Basin

The last HMP for E-43, which includes Game Management Units 55 and 551 within parts of Gunnison and Saguache Counties, was approved in 2001.

The previous population objective was 3,000 to 3,500 elk, while the 2021 population estimate was 6,700.

CPW’s preferred alternative is to increase the population objective to 6,200 to 7,200 elk and to maintain the status quo sex ratio of 23 to 28 bulls per 100 cows.

“The previous objectives for this herd were set using an older modeling method that likely underestimated the population size of this herd,” Grigg said. “We are proposing changing this population objective based on the new model that more accurately enables us to manage this herd within the objective ranges desired by the stakeholders.”

The draft elk plans are open to public comment through Dec. 20. Please submit public comments to Grigg at [email protected].

Comments also will be accepted by mail addressed to:
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Attn. Jamin Grigg
415 Turner Drive
Durango, CO 81303
 
Thanks for posting, Oak. I'm interpreting that the other DAUs not specifically listed are not proposed for herd objective change?

Some impressions on the units and proposals:

E40 Paradox. This has one small GMU. The majority of elk here summer in the La Sal high country of UT. Public land hunting is concentrated near the state line where hunters wait for elk to descend from UT. So Paradox farmers feed this elk herd in the winter, as there is no winter range on public property. I'd like to see more private land hunting opportunities during winter instead of paying game damage claims. I don't know how amenable property owners in the area are to allowing public access.

East Gunnison E43: Huzzah! Units where the elk herd is thriving despite the heavy motorized recreation and hunting trail system present. Glad to see a recommendation to increase target herd size, while recognizing this will reduce cow tag availability in these units.

Uncle Pahgre E20: CPW says habitat is suffering from drought, increased recreation, CWD and loss of winter range to development. So they suggest increasing the target herd size to match the existing herd size under current management. They want more bulls in 62, which is one of the heaviest hunted OTC units in the state most years.
61 is totally limited so bull ratio is easier to control there.

Overall I sense biologists saying the let's match our herd expectations to the realities that elk and habitat show us. Glad they have found more accurate counting methods.

I'm surprised management objectives are unchanged around Durango, where elk herds have been declining for years.

In the latest report from the CPW wolf group was mention of a strategy of increasing target herd size for elk as a strategy to counteract the anticipated herd impact in wolf reintroduction areas. The most likely areas for reintroduction gossip have been remote and with designated wilderness available. The Uncompahgre is not remote and does not hold any wilderness. Elk mountains/West Elk Wilderness and multiple large wilderness areas in the San Juan mountains are more rumored wolf areas in the southwest region. E43 is near the Elk mountain range, so is this report a hint toward wolves in the Gunnison basin?
 
No mention of declining calf ratios? I guess that only mattered when removing Archery OTC was on the table.

Just how do you grow population when calf recruitment is low? I guess the same way they have nearly doubled the pop in eagle and Pitkin counties, by slashing cow tags to zero.

Then again, increasing herd population will never work due to all those darn trails, motorized, and non motorized. Lol.
 
No mention of declining calf ratios? I guess that only mattered when removing Archery OTC was on the table.

Just how do you grow population when calf recruitment is low? I guess the same way they have nearly doubled the pop in eagle and Pitkin counties, by slashing cow tags to zero.

No, no mention at all of declining calf ratios.

The 2018 – 2021 calf ratio was 40 calves per 100 cows. This calf ratio has declined by approximately 6 calves per 100 cows in a 40-year period; the 1980-1989 average was 46 calves per 100 cows (Figure E05-3).

Observed post-hunt calf ratios averaged 34 calves:100 cows (range 23–57) between 2000 and 2021. The calf ratio has steadily decreased over the past 20 years and in 2021 27 calves to 100 cows were observed. The three-year and five- ear averages were the same at 26:100.

Observed post-hunt calf ratios averaged 41 calves:100 cows (range 32-59) between 2017 and 2021 (Figure E25-3). The calf ratio has declined by approximately four calves per 100 cows over the last 40 years; the 1980 - 1990 average calf ratio was 45 calves:100 cows.

Observed post-hunt calf ratios averaged 34 calves:100 cows (range 17–48) between 2000 and 2021. The calf ratio has steadily decreased over the past 20 years and in 2021 33 calves to 100 cows were observed. The three-year average was 27:100 and five-year average was 28:100.

Observed post-hunt calf ratios averaged 35 calves:100 cows (range 22–48) between 2000 and 2021. The calf ratio has steadily decreased over the past 20 years and in 2021 34 calves to 100 cows were observed. The three-year and five-year averages were the same at 28:100.
 
How often are the herd management plans updated? Every 5 years or so? I remember doing research for last year and one of these DAU’s had a report from 2008 or so, like abnormally old compared to others.
 
How often are the herd management plans updated? Every 5 years or so? I remember doing research for last year and one of these DAU’s had a report from 2008 or so, like abnormally old compared to others.
Approximately every 10 years, but some go a lot longer. This new strategy to complete each species by region is in part to stay more up to date on herd management plans statewide.
 

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