Larry Rogstad addresses the state’s two-strike policy
By Julie Marshall
Working for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) for 34 years has given Larry Rogstad a unique perspective not just on the charismatic sage grouse or the magnificent mountain lion, but also on people and their critical role in the midst of ever-increasing resource conflicts.
At 61, the father of two, who married his high-school sweetheart, maintains his Midwestern openness as he allows Boulder Magazine to dig into his mindset about working with wildlife and people, and his heartfelt belief in the scientific and philosophical role of hunting as a management tool. He also shares some sage advice about owning our part in the life-and-death management decisions concerning these animals that we all appreciate.
This has been a particularly difficult year for the agency, says spokeswoman Jennifer Churchill, who says Rogstad is “amazing, hard-working and compassionate, and deserves more understanding and respect than he gets some days.” On a blissfully warm October afternoon, the bespectacled Rogstad, dressed in a dark-brown uniform, gun in his holster, offered a window into his world.
Boulder Magazine: Did you know early on you wanted to manage wildlife?
Larry Rogstad: My uncle Bud was a game warden who liked to fish and hunt. When I was in third grade, right after school, we’d grab the dogs and go to Quail Creek or Lake Hefner in northwest Oklahoma City. We’d explore nature, hunt, trap, fish—stuff like that. We could walk 30 minutes and be where tallgrass prairie met eastern hardwood forest, and hear bobwhite [quail] and see lots of different critters, big and small; it was beautiful. That area is now the middle of town. Protecting resources seemed worth doing then, and with ever-continuing development in our world, it is even more important now.
Boulder Magazine: Why Colorado?
Rogstad: In 1979, the Colorado Division of Wildlife was the most outstanding natural resource agency in the world. … We loaded up the yellow van with all our worldly possessions and came to Colorado. Jan was six months pregnant, and I had a zoology degree from the University of Oklahoma and was fortunate to be hired on as a district wildlife manager. As area wildlife manager, I now cover around 4,800 square miles, including all of Boulder and Broomfield counties, and parts of Larimer and Weld counties. It’s definitely a challenge, people- and resource-wise.
Boulder Magazine: What are those challenges?
Rogstad: People have a strong sense of ownership in individual animals, and justifiably they get fired up when very tough decisions are made. That doesn’t necessarily filter into what we do as an agency: CPW’s role is to manage populations. The outcome for an individual animal may be horribly sad, but killing that animal probably won’t affect population health or stability, which are the prime considerations in resource management.
Boulder Magazine: Are you talking about bear No. 317—the female with two cubs in the middle of town—who was killed by your agency this fall and made front-page news?
Rogstad: We will talk bears—but first, consider our role as wildlife managers. We are responsible for managing that balance between habitat and animals, while understanding the impact of human populations. Take moose—a relatively new, non-native species to the northern Front Range, each consuming around 22 pounds of forage per day. As moose populations grow unchecked, they will potentially decimate Brainard Lake willow habitat, upon which other native species including mice, garter snakes and songbirds are dependent.
Boulder Magazine: We heard you received death threats after a bow hunter killed a massive bull moose near a road and in front of some hikers at Brainard.
Rogstad: Understandably, people have very strong feelings about their wildlife, including moose. It’s the same with elk at Rocky Mountain National Park, which because of high numbers over many years have had a long-term negative impact on aspen/willow riparian habitat. People say, “Oh my God, it’s absolutely horrible to kill a moose or an elk,” but it is sometimes necessary to harvest animals to keep the balance. In the case of RMNP, where their management plan has resulted in reduced elk numbers and some fencing of key riparian habitat, the proof is in the changes to those areas. Just look at the sites in the eastern valleys, where the aspens and alder are coming back, moving the national park towards its goal of restoring a healthy, viable riparian habitat, with enhanced water quality and streamside vegetation that will support the return of beavers—the iconic riparian species—along with Wilson’s warblers, fox sparrows and other species. RMNP’s management plan was actually about recovering multiple species and ecosystem stability; the elk are merely the critters that pushed the system out of balance.
Boulder Magazine: So are you saying we need to kill individual animals for balance?
Rogstad: No wildlife manager wants to kill without a purpose. Because, by law, hunting is not allowed in the national park, elk reduction in Rocky had to occur by culling. This really affects us on a deep level. It’s just awful for a wildlife officer to have to remove animals outside of normal hunting seasons. However, in this case, since it was unavoidable, CPW and the park worked together to make certain that reductions needed were done in a responsible manner, assisted by citizen volunteers, to gather biological information from the animals taken, and to make certain that the carcasses were donated to members of the public who would utilize the meat. We’ve been hunting in North America for 20,000 years. Because it’s from free-ranging animals, game meat is healthier than most store-bought meat, and as long as it’s harvested properly—utilizing the protein, taking care of the carcass—it’s the best tool and tradition for managing wildlife, and is an ethical use of a renewable resource.
Boulder Magazine: Back to the bears. Is the state’s two-strike policy fair, the one that led to the death of 317? According to the city of Boulder’s website: “The CPW has a ‘two-strike’ policy under which bears may be tranquilized, ear-tagged and relocated once if they are in an inappropriate location (for example, too far into town), or they have engaged in episode(s) of ‘nuisance’ behavior (multiple visits to town, light property damage, etc.). If that same bear has to be physically dealt with again (tranquilized or trapped due to inappropriate location or nuisance behavior), the bear is put down. Bears that pose a public safety risk will be put down ….”
Rogstad: We monitored 317 all summer, along with 15 to 20 other bears in Boulder. Most of the bears never displayed problem behavior, and wildlife officers let them be without the need to go “hands on.” Bears are less likely to become a problem as long as people living in bear country manage trash, clean their barbecue, and don’t leave food or birdfeeders out. And don’t get me started on chickens—the scent and the sound from chicken coops in town is a huge bear attractant. Bear 317 was in the middle of town; she started growling, huffing and becoming increasingly aggressive toward humans and moving toward people, including officers. In the last 10 years, about 25 people we know of have been injured by black bears in Colorado, and a couple [of people] were killed. We have to put human safety first. Because her behavior was considered potentially dangerous to humans, bear 317 and her cubs were captured and moved mid-summer.When they returned to the same exact neighborhood a few weeks later and her aggressive behavior continued to escalate, sadly there was no other option for her. Remember that in every bear we put down, the public is complicit in providing opportunity for that bear to become complacent around people, and tragically that may end in the death of the bear.
Boulder Magazine: What can we do to prevent death of a bear like 317, who wanted to be in the middle of town and was unafraid of humans?
Rogstad: We are constantly loving our wildlife to death. It always starts when somebody sees a bear in their yard and gets excited, grabbing the camera, the kids, and calling their friends to brag about “their” bear. What people actually should do is haze the bear away, not welcome it. Bang pots and pans, blow air horns, throw rocks or, where it’s legal, fire a shotgun round into the ground. Pretty soon, without hazing, that bear is breaking into your neighbor’s Subaru or your home, and winds up getting its final strike when you call me to come get rid of the bear that you are now calling “my bear.” I get calls like this concerning wildlife almost every day.
Boulder Magazine: You have a very difficult job, huh?
Rogstad: Oh yes, bears are only one species. Colorado has 960-plus species of fish and wildlife. In this job I’ve been beaten up by elk and deer and had serious run-ins with people. Blew my knee out in a squabble with a bad guy. I’m missing my left pinkie finger from a working day in the backcountry during big-game season, while loading horses. I actually broke all my fingers on that hand, and my hands are pretty scarred-up from fixing fence and other habitat work. The job is challenging physically and mentally.
Boulder Magazine: Tell us more about that.
Rogstad: I don’t want to talk about that; I want to keep this focused on the resource, not me.
Boulder Magazine: OK. You had mentioned you watched Oprah—I don’t think many readers will expect to hear that from a “game warden.” Does this relate to keeping an eye on the resource?
Rogstad: Recently, Oprah put together a series on how various people deal with core beliefs and values. The series covered several great religions and discussed our true place in this universe. Like many, I’m in a constant search for answers. If you read Genesis, you will get an idea of what our purpose is in terms of nature and our world. With “dominion” there is responsibility for managing well; in the case of resource management stewardship is the key. Taking a life is never anything to be taken lightly, but with respect and reverence. To destroy an animal and not utilize it is sinful. Don’t waste the resource, don’t trash the world, and be grateful for the gifts that are given to you. Wildlife management is stewardship. Stewardship involves using science to properly manage resources in a manner that benefits others, people as well as wildlife, for long-term sustainability. That’s what wildlife officers try their very best to do every day.
Julie Marshall is a former Daily Camera editorial page associate editor who writes extensively on Colorado wildlife and children living with different abilities. She is the author of Making Burros Fly: Cleveland Amory, Animal Rescue Pioneer (2006). She and her family live in Lafayette.