DENVER (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a National Park Service decision not to reintroduce wolves to Rocky Mountain National Park to control the elk population.
Park officials have been concerned since the 1930s about overgrazing by an elk population that has grown in the absence of natural predators like wolves. Hunting is generally banned in the park.
At one point, park officials proposed reintroducing wolves as a solution but that option was dropped, with the agency explaining there was little support from coordinating agencies, concerns from neighboring communities and a high potential for human-wolf conflicts, according to court documents. They also said managing wolves in the park would be expensive and time-consuming.
WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit in 2008 that argued the Park Service violated environmental laws when it "arbitrarily" ruled out using wolves. It also challenged the agency’s decision to use trained volunteers to help Park Service employees shoot and kill excess elk.
A federal judge in 2011 ruled that the agency took a hard look at relevant data before concluding that reintroducing wolves wasn’t feasible and that volunteers’ shooting the elk to cull the population wasn’t the same as hunting, which involves shooting for food or sport.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judge’s ruling.
"We find the record supports the agency’s decision to exclude consideration of a natural wolf alternative" from its elk management plan, the appeals court ruling said.
WildEarth Guardians director of carnivore protection Wendy Keefover said sharpshooters will never have the same ecological benefits on the landscape as wolves.
"Wolves would do a far better job of culling the weak, the sick, and consistently moving sedentary elk away from fragile streams," she said in a written statement.