After culling the herd, park officials held a lottery to distribute the meat. They got 5,247 applicants and closed the lottery after just a few days.
After culling the herd, park officials held a lottery to distribute the meat. They got 5,247 applicants and closed the lottery after just a few days. Larry Selzle/KUNC
"There are a lot of people out there who really like elk meat," hunter Mike Mangelsen says.
"There are a lot of people out there who really like elk meat," hunter Mike Mangelsen says. Larry Selzle/KUNC
Rocky Mountain National Park officials expected some controversy when they culled the park's elk population last month. What they didn't expect was thousands of people signing up for free meat.
After executing a long-planned shoot to control the exploding elk population, park officials held a lottery to distribute the meat. They thought a couple hundred people would respond. Instead, there were 5,247 applicants and the lottery was closed after just a few days.
"I was flabbergasted," says Larry Rogstad of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. He was surprised because the lottery was barely advertised. But Rogstad says hunters do talk a lot, and the park's plan to cull elk was highly publicized. And then there's the meat.
"There are a lot of people out there who really like elk meat," hunter Mike Mangelsen says. "Elk meat is high-quality meat, very healthy."
That's one of the reasons Mangelsen signed up for the lottery. He loves elk meat.
"You know I had steak for dinner last night, elk steak," he says as he finishes up lunch — an elk burrito. Though he didn't win any of the 11 elk that have been distributed so far, he says he's not disappointed. He's happy the meat is being used "rather than just throwing them over the edge of a cliff, or into a landfill." Especially now, he says, when so many people are struggling to make ends meet.
A Tasty Deal For Tough Times
Beyond a taste for elk, the economy may also be behind the flood of applicants, Colorado State University professor Mike Manfredo says. He studies the human dimension of wildlife management decisions.
"I shot an elk this year, and got 160 pounds of boned-out meat," Manfedo says. "That's a lot of meat to last for the winter; it translates into a lot of economic value."
Elk meat from the grocery store is pretty expensive. At one natural foods store in Denver, there's a small selection of elk tucked away between bison and ostrich. The price for ground elk is $5.95 a pound.
"I don't see the elk go very quick," meat manager Ross Cook-Golish says. That may be due to the cost, he says, but also buying the meat from the store just doesn't seem right. "You go hunting for that. That's what we've always done."
The park service ended elk-culling operations after only 33 animals were killed, though further culls are planned for years to come. But there's one thing that might come between people and their free elk: a lawsuit to stop the culling. Environmentalists want the National Park Service to reintroduce wolves, which, unlike hunters, are the elk's natural predators.
Kirk Siegler reports for member station KUNC.