Distant Herd and Unrelated Rant

Distant Herd of Mule Deer

The sun was shining when I went to take the trash out this morning and warm rays streaming down upon my face tilted the scales towards another hike this morning. I was thinking about just going for a bike ride this afternoon but I know myself too well… If I don’t get moving before about 7:00 I can be pretty sure I’m not going to get going! I’m a morning person, always have been…

Well a few steps down the trail almost had me wishing I had stayed home! It wasn’t nearly as warm on the mountain as it was in my sheltered back yard and the wind was Distant Herd of Mule Deerjust whipping! Fortunately my jacket has a hood or I might have gotten frost bite on my ears. On the other hand, in wind like that I’m pretty sure any ideas of a bike ride would have been abandoned for sure.

Thought it was going to be a photography shut out until just as I was making the final turn to go back to the parking lot. As I scanned the terrain I spotted the mule deer herd in the distance, contentedly grazing on mountain grass. There was no way I was  going to get close to them though, you can see from the pictures that they were well aware of my presence at least 100 yards away!

Now I want to talk about something else that absolutely infuriated me yesterday. Late last light an article by the local online news site Out There Colorado alerted me to a policy enacted by Colorado Fish and Wildlife (CFW) mandating that starting in July a hunting or fishing license will be required to visit wildlife areas. Reasoning provided by CFW states “By policy, state wildlife areas are acquired with hunter and angler dollars, and are intended specifically to provide wildlife habitat and wildlife-related recreation,” said Southeast Regional Manager Brett Ackerman. “This rule is aimed at curtailing non-wildlife-related use of these properties.”.

The policy alone infuriates me enough, but the comments following the piece were even more maddening, the bulk of which lauded the new policy because basically “hunters fund these areas” and hikers and climbers, photographers and tourists have no right to be there. First of all, how is a nature hike or wildlife photography or birding considered non-wildlife use of the land?

Secondly I am sick and tired of the BS spewed by hunters that they are the only ones who have a right to the land because they are the ones who pay for it. A quick check on the Colorado funding page indicates that only 34% of the state budget comes from passes, fees and permits, a figure which does not indicate how much of that 34% is comprised of hunting and fishing licenses versus entry fees, daily and weekly visitation permits, and commercial license fees paid by professional photography and film companies for special use. A full 34%, equaling the entire portion paid for by fees is funded by the Colorado state lottery and Great Outdoors Colorado. The Federal Government kicks in another 10% of the budget of which of course is funded by the U.S. taxpayer and the remaining 22% is funded by additional non-hunting resources.

If you consider only “wildlife management”, which is not defined by the Colorado funding site, 68% is funded by license fees and permits, which again is not itemized so that we can learn how much exactly hunters are actually paying. Incidentally, the Colorado Department of Education devotes half of it’s site to education about birding, hiking, climbing, camping, and wildlife watching without disturbing the animals. I  guess that half of the site will have to be eliminated in favor of only hunting and fishing if this decision is allowed to stand.

The entire premise that hunters pay for public wild lands stems from the North American Model mostly inspired by Teddy Roosevelt over 100 years ago, to protect wildlife and wildlife habitat from over hunting and development. One hundred years ago hiking, mountain climbing, mountain biking, birding, camping and photography were not really a thing and were of course not given any consideration at the time. This article in the Mountain Lion Foundation  gives an indication of how much things have changed in over a century, stating that “94% of total funding for wildlife conservation and management come from the non-hunting public”. Another thoughtful article provided by WyoFile provides a similar figure, indicating that 95% of the funding for wildlife related agencies comes from the non-hunting public. This article from NPR cites a study by U.S. Fish and Wildlife that reveals only 5% of Americans 16 and older actually hunt. Other studies, especially in areas like Yellowstone in Wyoming and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, show just how much revenue the states and municipalities benefit from wildlife tourism, a figure that far exceeds the paltry sums collected by the states from hunters.

The idea that a miniscule 5% of the American populace should control the nation’s wildlife is a concept that has gone the way of the 19th century. It is well past time that the vast majority of nature loving Americans be given a voice in how our wildlife is preserved. Hopefully this egregious ruling will be quickly overturned in court and millions of Coloradoans and out of state visitors will be able to continue enjoying their land in their own way. If we continue to be denied a voice in decisions about our precious wildlife I urge you to make your voice heard at the ballot box. If our wildlife officials won’t listen, we need to vote in officials who will listen.

Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park

There is no better time than autumn for a camping trip in Rocky Mountain National Park! The colors and the wildlife action are at their peak, the weather is cool and dry and the crowds of summer have largely subsided. So photo buddy Kevin and I loaded up our gear and steered towards Estes Park for the once a year elk photography bonanza. Last year we only gave ourselves one day and found there was far too much to take it all in.

Headwaters of the Big ThompsonThis year we decided to give ourselves the best part of two days, a nice trip up on the first day for the sunset scene followed  by a night of camping with the idea of catching the sunrise action on the second day. The only  problem with this plan was that even two days isn’t enough to take it all in! Rocky Mountain National Park is so vast and beautiful that you probably could not even take it in if you had a week to explore it.

But our plan as it was came together perfectly. We arrived in the park by early afternoon giving us time to look around, survey all the best elk viewing locations and get our gear set up for the evening appearance of the Moraine Park Elk Herd. And quite a scene it was… The main herd was lorded over by one huge bull who stayed busy until dark keeping his cows together while watching diligently and listening intently for any

Herd of Elk on a Foggy Morning

threats to his domain. At one point he heard the bugling of a rival bull over the ridge and trotted off to address the threat. Some unruly cows crossed the road and his harem was split, which would have been no big deal were it not for the unbroken line of cars and spectators right through the middle. Some of the cows were afraid to cross so eventually the big male returned and was forced to address the chaos. He crossed the road and ventured to the distant

Elk Herd on a Beautiful Rocky Mountain Evening

boundaries of his domain to warn off some bachelors that were nosing around his perimeter. The park ranger patrolling the road, when she discovered the issue, separated the crowd, moved some cars and made way for the herd to pass back and forth. The bull was then able to round up all the wayward females and reassemble them in the meadow on the west side of the road.

The inevitable onslaught of darkness finally brought the photography to an end and we

Elk Herd on a Beautiful Rocky Mountain Evening

make the short journey over to Moraine Park Campground to set up camp. Tent campers are provided an entire loop on the far end of the campground away from all the RV’s and their generators, so we proceeded to our designated spot in D loop. It’s a beautiful quiet campground with clean facilities, flat tent pads, bear boxes and fire pits. It’s also the only campground open in the winter months, which is fine but if you plan to go there you should definitely call the park for a reservation. Due to the presence of bears there are no trash receptacles, any packaging or food wrappers will need to be stored in the bear box until can get to the main dumpster at the entrance.

Cold Foggy Morning in Moraine Park

I’m not going to lie, the autumn night air is going to be chilly so bring the proper winter wear! It was only 35 degrees at sunrise when we once again took up our position in Moraine park. The big bull and his harem were already gathered on the east side of the road in the heavy fog of the cold morning. It was here that I captured some of my most dramatic imagery as the morning sun lit the fog and the autumn leaves in the background. The animals were quite active, making use of a tripod a bit difficult but necessary due to the subtle morning light.

Autumn on Trail Ridge Road

By the time the sun was completely up we were ready to check on some other locations and wander into Estes Park for some breakfast while we discussed the plans for the day. At length we decided to break down camp and explore Fall River Road, the old dirt road that carried travelers to the park summit which is now the Trail Ridge Road visitor center.  Fall River Road is a rough nine mile one way dirt road that skirts the south side of the ridge with beautiful views of Longs Peak to the east with a beautiful hike and waterfall about halfway into the drive. The falls were in harsh light by this time, with shadows too deep for  good photography but that didn’t stop me from capturing some video with my phone 🙂

The wind and cold on the summit were horrendous, blowing so hard that I was barely

Summit on Trail Ridge Road

able  to stand still enough to even capture this phone cam picture! After scouring the visitor center for a couple of souvenirs we began the drive through the fierce winds down Trail Ridge Road in view of massive Longs Peak. I tried a couple of spots for pictures but the wind and harsh afternoon light got the better of me, not overly excited about the images I captured from the high alpine reaches of the park.

By the time we were back in the valley it was early afternoon and Bear Lake was the last thing we had in mind to explore. However by that time the park was filling with visitors and the parking lot was full, according to the sign at the park and ride. A ride on the bus with an armload of camera gear wasn’t too appealing by this time so we decided to call it a day and head for home.

Today of course finds me at my computer monitor looking over almost 900 images and reveling in the memory of an amazing trip. As always the best of  the day’s capture are available for purchase on my website as wall art on glossy metal and acrylic sheets, stretched canvas and traditional framing and matting. Also available are tons of cool gift items, apparel, tech gadgets and handy household items with a S.W. Krull Imaging picture.