Abundance of cow elk: Populations on mesa spark license changes

Elk hunters on Grand Mesa, particularly cow-elk hunters, should have plenty of opportunity this year.

Elk populations on the mesa are estimated to be around 18,000 animals, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, and a recent increase in license numbers also will help.

This year, changes in the license format for the five game management units on Grand Mesa eliminate public land, either-sex elk tags for the first and fourth seasons.

Private land either-sex licenses for the first and fourth seasons still are available.

Instead of public land either-sex tags, there now are bull and cow specific licenses.

The reasons are several, not the least of which is the either-sex tags, both on private and public lands, were so effective and popular they threatened to cut general season hunting.

“In 2006 to 2008, 17 percent of our antlerless harvest came from those four either-sex hunts,”  said DOW terrestrial biologist Stephanie Duckett.

She also said the either-sex licenses were so in demand it took preference points to draw a license.

The DOW looked at cutting other licenses to meet the demand for the either-sex licenses, which didn’t make sense from a management standpoint.

“That’s not the point for the mesa, the mesa is to provide hunting opportunity,” Duckett said. “We heard that repeatedly in public meetings, that people want to hunt every year.

“So we decided to switch back to providing more opportunity and more closely manage the harvest of both bulls and cows.”

With so many elk, the DOW isn’t reducing harvest.

This year, there will be some 3,200 more licenses available, Duckett said, with 1,700 cow tags in the second, third and fourth seasons.

“We’re not decreasing harvest because we have really good calf-cow ratios and the elk are at the high end of the objective range,” she said.

The current population objective puts the desired herd size between 15,000 to 19,000 elk, Duckett said.

That’s well above the former population objective of 9,000 to 11,000 animals.

“When we did the DAU plan in 2006-2007, we were happy with elk numbers on the mesa,” Duckett said.

There was some surprise when the new modeling surveys showed populations were closer to 18,000, not the 11,000 expected.

“We told the public that if we were to meet population objectives, we’d have to cut the herd nearly in half,” Duckett said. “But people said they were happy with the elk population where it was.

“So we changed the population objective. The number of elk hasn’t changed.”

This week, the wildlife commission approved the new licenses for Grand Mesa.

“Switching back to bull and cow tags allowed us to increase license numbers,” Duckett said. “We’re not at the level between 2002 and 2004 when we had almost 1,600 cow licenses on Grand Mesa, but we aren’t trying to kill as many elk, either.”

Spring means coyote watch — For most people, contact with wildlife means watching elk or deer from a distance or having a skunk cross your backyard.

But spring often brings encounters with other wildlife, and hikers along the base of Colorado National Monument often see denning coyotes with their young.

Those coyote pups are cute but they aren’t pets, reminds the DOW.

“Spring is denning season for coyotes and with new pups in the dens, coyotes will behave more aggressively,” explained John Broderick, terrestrial program manager for the division. “When you put defensive coyotes trying to feed their young into the mix with lots of people heading outdoors to enjoy the warming weather, you get the right mix for potential problems.”

A few tips from the DOW should you encounter coyotes or have them around your home.

Don’t feed them. Just like most things in life, coyotes are unpredictable and may not respond in the manner you expect.

“When people feed wildlife, it doesn’t take long to teach a wild animal to associate people with food,” Broderick said. “But it’s very difficult to convince a habituated coyote to return to wild ways.”

Don’t get close or try to pick up a coyote pup.

When out for a walk, keep your pets on leash and when at home, keep them under control. Broderick said even pets in enclosed yards aren’t safe from hungry predators, especially at night.

If you encounter an aggressive coyote, report the incident to the nearest DOW office. In Grand Junction, call 255-6100.


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