The Elk Are Back in Town

Elk+graze+just+north+of+the+Telluride+Valley+Floor.

THS Today

Elk graze just north of the Telluride Valley Floor.

Zach Weissman, Staff Writer

TELLURIDE — Be warned all dog owners, the Valley Floor is now off limits as the elk, otherwise known as wapiti, are back in town.

The elk graze on the lowland grass, and will reside on the Telluride Valley Floor throughout the winter.

Elk were once found across most of North America, but as a result of hunting they have been driven off into more remote locations, however, there have been efforts to reintroduce the elk into the Eastern part of the United States.

According to National Geographic, Pennsylvania was the first state to engage with the idea of reintroducing elk, and received 50 from Yellowstone National Park.  As of today, National Geographic reported that the elk population has recovered remarkably. 

For locals who pass by the elk every day, they might think nothing of it.  But for transplants and tourists, the elk serve as a big attraction. 

It is not uncommon to see lines of cars pulled off the Spur, snapping photos of the wild animals.  San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters, however, warns passersby to keep their distance.

“The elk can be a hazard to motorists and pedestrians,” Masters said.  “People need to respect these wild animals and give them proper distances when viewing or photographing.”

Accidents happen almost exclusively when the pedestrian is being irresponsible and is getting too close to these creatures, according to Masters.

Kalli Baillargeon, Telluride Marshall’s office administrative assistant, reports at least three times when Telluride officers had to untangle or put an elk down due to being caught in the fence.

Elk go through rutting season between mid-September to mid-October when they are looking to mate.

“During the rut season, bull elk may become aggressive toward people,” Masters said.

Aside from their beauty, the elk aid in the health of the Valley Floor, preventing overgrowth.

THS Science teacher says they affect in grasslands in a healthy way.  “They turn up the ground a little bit and aerate it with their hooves.  They also fertilize it and keep the grass groomed so that the grass stays at nutritional height.”

Much like Telluride, the elk are rugged, tough and beautiful; symbols of the town itself.