STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – Armed with a helicopter and net guns, researchers are capturing elk and putting GPS collars on them all in the name of conservation. Researchers spent Tuesday and Wednesday tracking down and collaring 30 adult female elk around Steamboat Springs.
The goal of the operation is to better understand what, if any impact outdoor recreation activities are having on the second largest herd of elk in the world.
“The Bears Ears elk herd is 20,000-24,000 animals,” CPW Wildlife Researcher Nathaniel Rayl told CBS4 Wednesday.
Scientists and wildlife managers will collar another 20 animals next winter in the same region. The massive collaborative project brings together Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the University of Wyoming and the U.S. Forest Service.
“We will also be setting up a camera trap and trail counters this spring,” Rayl added.
They hope the data collected over the next two years will help them make better management decisions in the future to keep the population healthy. Somewhere between 500-800 elk are believed to stay year-round in the Steamboat area. Researchers want to capture and collar these elk because they are dealing with the impact of people on the landscape at all seasons.
“They are experiencing that heavier recreational footprint year-round and want to find out how they are responding to that,” CPW Wildlife Researcher Nathaniel Rayl said.
Elsewhere in Colorado, elk herds like the one in the Vail Valley have seen populations declining over the last decade and that concerns wildlife managers. It’s possible stress from people in their range area is adding to the decline and managers don’t want to see that happen in this corner of the state.
“Learning about these animals and figuring out how to balance recreation and and wildlife conservation,” Rayl added.
CPW told CBS4 they have received some comments from concerned residents that this operation is actually stressing the animals out, but managers say doing it in the deep snow is actually safer for the elk and puts them under less stress.