Video: Nature out of balance

NBC News with Brian Williams
By Kevin Tibbles Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/10/2006 7:51:59 PM ET 2006-05-10T23:51:59

In Rocky Mountain National Park, the only thing more popular than the breathtaking scenery is the elk.

There are traffic jams and lawn chair gatherings just to watch — and listen — to the elk’s bugle.

But these majestic beasts have become just a little too comfortable here.  According to park officials there are about 1,000 too many.

Some 3,000 of them now hang around in places they shouldn't be. Grass that's usually knee-high has been nibbled down. White-barked aspen trees are now scarred black by voracious elk appetites.

“You have a lot of dead trees in this area,” says the park service’s Kyle Patterson. “So you have no regeneration. No new growth.”

And the elk are pushing other wildlife out, says park service biologist Therese Johnson — songbirds, woodpeckers, various sorts of butterflies and other insects, and beaver.

Roving bands of elk wander into the nearby town of Estes Park, munching on lawns and gardens. And on the golf course, there's new meaning to the phrase “play through.”

Police Chief Lowell Richardson now battles his own unique gang problem. 

“We've actually had pedestrians or residents attacked by an elk during calving season,” Richardson says.

Possible solutions are in a 500-page proposal from the National Park Service, including:

  • Inject the females with birth control.
  • Bring a few wolves down from Yellowstone and let the laws of nature take over.
  • Do nothing ... and watch the elk multiply.

The most controversial option is to kill 1,000 elk, using wildlife agents with silencers on their rifles. The park service maintains any killing would be done in the dead of night. 

“Having that done in front of park visitors,” says Vaughn Baker, the superintendent of Rocky Mountain National Park, “that's probably not part of the part experience we want to have out there.”

But down on the banks of the Big Thompson, the idea of shooting elk doesn't sit well with tourists like Mitchell Dugger. 

“I think there's some better ways to do it,” he says, “than taking them out with guns.”

For the next two months the park service will chew over the public's response to how it plans to control what's become too much of a good thing.

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