Baca National Wildlife Refuge: The elk herd is degrading riparian habitat


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing some hunting and hazing to scatter elk herds at the three national wildlife refuges it manages in the San Luis Valley.

The agency said elk have become a problem because of the damage they cause to wetlands and riparian habitat, a conflict that is especially pronounced on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, which has a herd of roughly 3,500.

A draft environmental assessment released Tuesday called for licensed hunts on roughly 27,000 acres on the Baca with the majority coming on the western edge of the refuge.

Other steps in the proposal also call for selective culling and hazing, with the possible use of cracker shells, horseback riders and agency staff on foot.

“We’d like to keep as many tools in the toolbox as we can,” said Mike Blenden, who oversees the valley’s three refuges.

The overuse by elk on the Baca caused the near total elimination of habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher, which is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The environmental assessment also said elk had damaged some habitat on the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Opening all three refuges to public hunting was not considered as part of this plan, which will last for three years. The agency said that option will be considered in the management plan for the three refuges, which is due out in 2015.

The other options in the draft include the possibility of continuing with the existing policy of not managing the herds and another that uses hazing without the incorporation of the Baca hunts.

The agency will accept comments on the draft for 30 days. They can be sent to or in writing to: San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 9383 El Rancho Lane, Alamosa, CO., 81101.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.

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