An appeals court sided with officials at the Rocky Mountain National Park who would prefer to use volunteer hunters to cull overpopulated elk at the park on Wednesday. An environmentalist group wanted to stock the park with wolves to take out the elk. The group, WildEarth Guardians, sued the national park service in 2008 over a then-instated elk management policy, saying that using volunteer shooters violates a hunting ban in the park.
The panel of three judges in federal appeals court said using trained volunteers does not violate a hunting ban and that rules governing hunting in the parks allow the killing of animals that are dangerous or detrimental to the park, according to the Denver Post. “Neither …. the hunting ban nor the exceptions to that ban are based on the identity of the party destroying the animal …. Nor does WildEarth satisfactorily explain why, if NPS personnel can shoot an elk without it being considered hunting, the NPS’s agents cannot do so,” the court said.
Wendy Keefover, carnivore protection program director for Wildearth Guardians, wanted to bring wolves to naturally eliminate wolves in Rocky Mountain National Park, but park service officials argued that wasn’t feasible. They said other agencies did not support the move and that this would raise additional concerns about the safety of humans nearby. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation supports the use of hunters as a means of population control.
Since the beginning of the program in 2008, a little more than 100 elk have been killed by shooters. The program only eliminates elk that destroy aspen and willow in the region. In 2010, officials estimated there were about 2,350 elk in the park, about 1,700 of which are residents of the area near Estes Park.