A Dove Creek farmer was reimbursed more than $26,500 on Friday after a herd of elk last summer destroyed his cornfield, resulting in a complete loss of crops.
The money comes from a Colorado Parks and Wildlife fund derived from the purchase of hunting licenses, which is then dedicated to repaying landowners who experience damage from big game animals.
A reimbursement is made only after other methods of prevention have proved unsuccessful, as was the case with Dove Creek resident John Nielson, who owns property off County Road 5.
According to a Parks and Wildlife report, Nielson notified the department July 30 that a herd of wild elk had damaged two cornfields that cover about 23-acres in Dolores County.
A Parks and Wildlife representative met with Nielson later that day and gave him cracker shells and propane cannons, noise deterrents used to scare off elk, which proved unsuccessful over the next 15 days.
On Aug. 15, Parks and Wildlife issued 12 “damage hunt” permits, specially issued licenses that allow hunters to kill big game in the off-season to pressure herds away from private property.
By Sept. 1, rifle season on private lands began, and Nielson allowed hunters onto his property to hunt the elk. But a September inspection determined the cornfield was a “100 percent loss” of Nielson’s fall crop, the CPW report says.
The value of the loss was finalized as $23,885 for seed corn and $2,663 for silage field. It was approved Friday at the Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting, as part of the consent agenda.
Chris Kloster, a program assistant for CPW’s game damage unit, said the prevention and reimbursement program was created to resolve pressures between private landowners and wildlife.
“Quite simply, it allows us to have the number of wildlife we want, while offsetting the impacts to producers those animals cause,” Kloster said. “If you look at other states that don’t have this, like Utah, there’s certainly a lot more contention over damage caused by wildlife.”
With continuing habitat loss from development, and increasing pressures on land use, big game wildlife – such as elk, moose, bears and mountain lions – more and more rely on the refuge private farms or ranches provide.
Elk, especially, have come to learn they can seek shelter on private lands, where hunters do not have access, a CPW report said.
CPW, wanting to maintain healthy population numbers, offers landowners methods to get the wildlife to move off the land, such paying for fencing or a liquid spray that makes crops less palatable to animals.
But when all else fails, compensation from loss of property, which can include orchards, beehives and nurseries, may be awarded.
The program is allocated about $1.2 million annually for prevention and claim expenses, and CPW has not exceeded that amount, said Kloster.
In fiscal year 2016, about $685,400 was granted in settlements of 206 claims, mostly in loss of livestock and crops. That’s down from the five-year average of $824,747, an annual report shows.
About $424,500 was spent on prevention methods in fiscal year 2016.
In the Southwest Colorado region, just under $50,000 was paid to landowners in 2016 through the game damage program, with about $26,000 going for crop losses.
Most of the remaining funds consisted of claims for loss of sheep, livestock and harvested crops.
The region that accounted for the largest reimbursements, by far, was Meeker, totaling nearly $250,000 in claims.
Kloster said the game damage program has proven successful for landowners, wildlife populations and hunters.
“I think it’s valuable for both sportsmen and landowners,” he said. “If you’re trying to make a living, the losses can be intense. This is a way to bring some level of acceptance for landowners having wildlife damage.”