courtesy of High Country News
by Larry Keller
The elk of Rocky Mountain National Park are wildlife’s couch potatoes. Rather than roam widely throughout the 415-square-mile park and the land outside it, they are content to laze around in meadows, eating, sleeping and mating.
With no predators, they can afford to be slackers. Many of them saunter into the tourist town of Estes Park outside the eastern entrance. There, they mosey along city streets and loiter on golf courses.
Their inertia has created problems in the park, however. Aspen and willow stands are denuded where the elk do much of their grazing. That habitat is vital to a variety of birds and butterflies, park officials say. The damage has also driven out most of the beavers that once populated the area, which in turn has caused a nearly 70-percent decline in surface water that helps nourish the very habitat being damaged.