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When elk move onto the golf course: CPW hopes tracking program will help manage suburban herds

elk herd on golf course
Posted at 11:24 AM, Feb 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-20 13:26:19-05

GOLDEN, Colo. — Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials are hoping a new collaring program will help better manage a herd of elk that has gradually drifted into suburban areas in the foothills west of Denver.

Officers began capturing and collaring the Clear Creek herd in December at two golf courses in Golden — The Club at Rolling Hills and Fossil Trace Golf Club, where elk have reportedly caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage — and then further north, in the Rocky Flats area, CPW announced on Thursday.

CPW hopes to put more than 40 of the GPS collars on female elk in the herd by next March and study data from the collars over the next five years, tracking the herd's movements and population trends.

The collaring program came as a result of recent concerns from Golden residents about safety and from the damage to the golf courses, according to CPW. Pictures and video from CPW showed dozens of elk roaming the golf courses. Officers sedated elk long enough to attach a collar and tag and then set them free.

"Determining when and where elk occur and how many will there are is the first step in mitigating some of the issues CPW and land managers and owners are currently experiencing," said CPW biologist Ben Kraft, who heads the project.

elk on golf course
A collared elk at The Club at Rolling Hills in Golden.

Similar collaring studies in Estes Park and Rabbit Mountain have showed elk movements in real time and how herds adapt to landscapes, despite development and other human activity, CPW said.

How CPW plans to manage the herds in the Golden area remains unclear, until the agency gets more information about their movements. Public hunt programs have been used in managing the Rabbit Mountain herd.

“So I think in these areas, and specifically on Jefferson County Open Space, I think we can implement some of those management strategies," Kraft said, "and the main push for that would be to redistribute elk back to the west so they are not forming resident herds in the foothills along urban interface areas."