Rocky Mountain elk roam widely across the Upper Rio Grande watershed, traveling extensively from high summer range in the mountains to the shrubland and deserts at lower elevations in the colder months. They are highly social animals and gather in herds for security, seeking areas away from roads and other disturbances. Elk have several protected areas to use as refuge in the Upper Rio Grande, such as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, South San Juan wilderness areas and the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. In New Mexico, they can be found in the Valles Caldera National Preserve, Valle Vidal, Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument and the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Area.
Even with the abundant habitat in each of these areas, elk migrate seasonally. The pathways elk and other wildlife use are full of obstacles such as demanding topography, industrial development and roads. One major impediment is US Highway 285 through Carson National Forest, which presents a significant obstacle for elk attempting to reach critical habitat in the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. Understanding what elk and other key wildlife need to thrive– and then implementing management activities to meet those needs — is critical to maintaining robust elk populations in the Upper Rio Grande.