Hunters give big game input to CPW

ALAMOSA — In order to not repeat a low elk population that was seen in the late 90s, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) met with hunters, outdoor recreationists and other members of the public to discuss herd management strategies. One meeting was held at Centauri High School Thursday night and the other was held meeting at the CPW office in Monte Vista on Friday.

Back then the population was approximately 12,000-14,000. “It was so high it was having significant effects to private lands and forest service,” said Rick Basagoitia, CPW’s area wildlife manager for the San Luis Valley, on Thursday. So CPW increased hunting which lowered the population to roughly 4,000-5,000 elk. However, that caused some issues.

“We learned rather quickly that getting that low was below what was tolerable,” Basagoitia said. “It addressed our issues in terms of game damage and conflicts, but people couldn’t find any elk.”

Now the population is approximately 10,000 elk in the data analysis unit (DAU) and it is slowly trending upwards. The DAU is comprised of game management units (GMU) 80 and 81 and includes approximately 2,1000 square miles in the San Juan Mountains. Highway 160 and the New Mexico border are the northern and southern borders while the continental divide and Rio Grande are the eastern and western borders.

Population is calculated by estimating the size of the post-season herd in Colorado. That means that the roughly 25-30 percent of elk that migrate to New Mexico aren’t counted. CPW stresses that all numbers are approximate.

“Trying to say how many elk are out there is an exercise in futility,” Basagoitia said. “We don’t know for sure. Nobody can know for sure.”

CPW does know that the elk don’t migrate based on hunting seasons.

“Heavy snowfall events appear to motivate elk more in their movement from Colorado to New Mexico in search of better forage conditions,” Brent Frankland, wildlife biologist at CPW, said.

After describing the history of the area and nature of the study, CPW conducted a survey to gather attendees’ opinions about the herds.

To increase populations of elk, CPW would reduce the number of hunting licenses. This would increase species competition, impact habitat, and could potentially increase agricultural and automotive issues. However, it also increases the number of animals for recreational enjoyment and it has a positive impact to local and state economies.

To decrease elk populations, CPW would increase the number of licenses. This means less competition, less damage to crop and cars, and less impact to the habitat, but also lowers the number of animals for public enjoyment and lowers economic benefit.

At Thursday’s meeting, 35 percent of attendees want a 30 percent increase of the elk population, 32 want a 15 percent increase and 26 percent wanted the population to stay the same.

The survey also asked about male to female ratio of the herd. If more bull-elk hunting licenses are made available there are then more hunters in the field. This also results in fewer large or mature bull-elk.

If fewer bull licenses are issued then there is a higher bull-to-cow ratio and the field becomes less crowded.

On Thursday night 42 percent wanted a higher bull-to-cow ratio and 39 percent wished to maintain the current balance.  The hunters also said that 41 percent were somewhat dissatisfied with elk hunting while 22 percent were somewhat satisfied.

While the meeting focused on elk, deer were also a part of the survey and CPW asked the same questions about population size and sex ratios.

Thirty-seven percent want a 20 percent increase in deer population while 30 percent want a 10 percent increase and 23 percent want the population to stay the same. Forty-seven percent want a higher buck-to-doe ratio and 40 percent are satisfied with the current ratio.

CPW will take the information gathered at this week’s meetings, along with online comments, and draft up a plan that will be available for public comment this fall.

Visit to take a survey and provide input on CPW’s herd management. Surveys must be completed before Aug. 12.