Even though elk only live in a small fraction of their historic US range, the population in Colorado is doing just fine.
A few years back, Colorado Parks and Wildlife commissioned an aerial survey of the elk population in Larimer County to assess both individual and herd level health, and the resulting footage is absolutely astounding.
The assessment was necessary after the largest wildfire in Colorado history, called the Cameron Peak Fire, burned nearly 209,000 acres of land from August to December of 2020. They were trying to count on the number of bulls, cows, and calves in the specific herd, which is then inputted into a model which determines how many hunting licenses are given out each year.
According to wildlife biologist Angelique Curtis, they classified around 4,200 elk during the exercise.
In order to find the large herd, they utilize the “Judas Animal” method, which involved placing a collar on one of the elk and monitoring its location as it makes its way back to the large group. The pilot then makes passes over the herd and splits the animals into smaller segments so Angelique is able to classify each individual.
“These groups that we’re seeing can be up to 2,000 elk at a time and in order for us to properly classify them, the pilot has to go in there and carve off a group of 35-40 elk at a time. Then his job is also too keep the elk separated from the main herd…
As a biologist, I sit there and talk into a recorder and just call off whether I see a cow, a calf, or a bull. At the end of the day I go back and listen to my recording, I get that all down into a spreadsheet.
So it’s kind of a long, laborious process to come up with some really good data.”
While the process of classifying the elk is incredibly difficult and shows the level of skill these professionals have, maybe the best part of this video is the jaw dropping footage of thousands of elk sprinting across the snow covered Rocky Mountain landscape.
I mean, it really shows why Whiskey Riff HQ moved out west a few years back…
Elk are easily one of the most majestic creatures on the planet, and thanks to the great work of the people of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, they’ll be around for us all to enjoy for many years to come.