Oct 6, 2022 - News

Colorado's outdoor recreation boom endangers elk herds

A bull elk bugles in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo: Glenn Asakawa/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A surge of outdoor adventurers in Colorado is threatening critical habitat for the state's elk populations, per a new analysis from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Threat level: Local recreational trails are compromising more than 40% of routes that Colorado elk herds depend on to breed, forage and survive, the report estimates.

  • With trail use up 44% between 2014 and 2019, the swell in outdoor activity is exacerbating existing challenges the large mammals face — like habitat loss due to human development and climate change.
  • Consequently, some local elk populations are declining.

Why it matters: "Outdoor recreation is a cornerstone of Colorado's economy and central to the identity of our state," which is "why science-based management of our natural resources — wildlife among them — is so critical," said Liz Rose, the Colorado field representative for the partnership.

What to watch: The report calls on Colorado policymakers to take action, including to avoid elk habitat when planning future recreation infrastructure.

  • The conservation partnership, a hunting and fishing advocacy group, also suggests restricting vehicle and hiker trail use during certain times of year when elk or other big game animals are around, and limiting the density of those roads and trails when time-of-use restrictions aren't practical.

What they're saying: "This analysis is meant to facilitate conversation and provide useful information so that land managers and outdoor recreationists can more effectively conserve iconic big game species like elk, while also enjoying high-quality recreation opportunities," Rose said.

What's next: Colorado land managers are pursuing an overhaul of how state officials manage habitat for elk and other big game to conserve migration corridors and other critical habitat.

  • The management decisions could impact millions of acres of land and span restrictions from trail use to oil and gas development in the area, per the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Denver stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more