Thursday, January 10, 2013

Court Upholds Decision On Elk Thinning In Rocky Mountain National Park

The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday against WildEarth Guardians’ challenge to the National Park Service for its refusal to restore wolves to Rocky Mountain National Park. The grassroots organization argued that wolves would be much more effective in managing the burgeoning elk population in the park, rather than the continued use of sharpshooters to cull the herd.

“Despite the fact that wolves provide enormous ecological benefits to both elk and ecosystems that human sharpshooters simply cannot, the court ruled in favor of the sharpshooters,” said Wendy Keefover, Director of Carnivore Protection for WildEarth Guardians. “Wolves would do a far better job of culling the weak, the sick, and consistently moving sedentary elk away from fragile streams. Sharpshooters will never have the same ecological benefits on the landscape.”

The Park Service recognized the need to manage overpopulated elk in Rocky Mountain National Park in a December 2007 management plan, but the agency only briefly considered a wolf reintroduction as the preferred option to control elk herds. Guardians had argued that the agency’s decision-making process not only violated federal planning mandates, its decision to use sharpshooters also violated the agency’s organic act that established the Park Service as an agency that is supposed to prioritize conservation.

“Wolves keep getting a bad rap from agencies, Congress, and the courts, and we are so disappointed that they cannot return to their ancestral home – even in a national park where they are beloved by the overwhelming majority of citizens,” said Keefover. “This outcome is going to be a huge disappointment to the over 70 percent of Coloradoans who want wolves back.”

Although park officials once proposed the reintroduction of wolves as a possible solution, that option was quickly dropped. The agency stated there was little support from coordinating agencies, concerns from neighboring communities and a high potential for human-wolf conflicts. Officials also warned that managing wolves in the park would be expensive and time-consuming.

The appeals court ruling stated: "We find the record supports the agency’s decision to exclude consideration of a natural wolf alternative” from its elk management plan.


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