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Blue Mountain Elk Herd Management - State of Washington

Dec 14, 2007
The Blue Mountains Elk Herd is one of the ten herds that have been identified in the state of Washington. Population of this herd was at its highest during the late 1970s, when the herd consisted of around 6,500 elk. In the late 1980s, herd population began to decline, due to a number of factors, and the estimated population in 1999 was no more than 4,500. As the herd provides economic, recreational, cultural and aesthetic benefits to the state and to its residents, the decline in elk population is a concern. In order to remedy this problem, herd surveys have been performed to determine the rate of breeding productivity, as well as the survival rate of calves, and to map trends in population.

Generally, over the period surveyed, the ratio of cows to calves in the Blue Mountains Elk Herd has declined. The historical ratio was around thirty-eight to forty-five calves to each one hundred cows. In recent years, however, only sixteen to twenty-five calves to each one hundred cows have been found. In addition to the cow:calf ratios, the cow to bull ratio also dropped significantly, beginning in the 1980s. Because of this problem, a strategy was implemented in 1989 to prevent over harvesting of bulls. The general season was restricted to young, spike bulls, and branch antlered bulls, the older ones, could be taken only with a permit.

The spike-only rule improved bull ratios significantly in just two years. While rate of pregnancy, peak conception date, and ratios of calves to cows in the early summer have improved (the rate now being more than fifty calves for each one hundred cows), the actual rate of calf survival remains low. The population of the Blue Mountains Elk Herd is below its objective level of 5,600 individuals. It is clear that additional management is required to establish the future of the Blue Mountains herd.

The current proposed plan for this herd's management intends to provide direction for a period of five years. It's important that all management plans be evaluated, updated and amended before the term expires, so that their effectiveness can be gauged, and the plans extended for additional periods if this is appropriate. Management plans act as valuable guidelines and reference documents for a variety of people, including the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, or WDFW, landowners in the area, agency cooperators, native tribes, and the general public. Since they are only plans, however, management activities, even those that are a priority, must be carried out as resources and funding are made available for them.

The management plan for the Blue Mountains Elk Herd has three main goals. The first is the management of the elk herd to produce a sustainable yield. The second is managing elk for a number of different educational, aesthetic, and recreational purposes. These purposes include scientific study, viewing and photography of wildlife by the general public, hunting, and cultural and ceremonial uses by Native Americans in the state. The third goal of the management plan is the preservation and protection of elk and their natural habitat to ensure productive, healthy populations of these animals.

While some feel that elk management plans are dangerous to the animals, and other consider them a problem for hunters, as they restrict the animals available to be taken, a balance between the welfare of the animals and the welfare of the humans around them is sought. In the current plan, recreational hunting opportunities are provided for. However, it's required for them to be consistent with the overall management objectives for the entire herd, and the specific survival targets for bull elk to prevent further herd decline. Control of elk poaching, and management of the recreational harvest of cougar and black bear in correlation with the objectives for the management of the Blue Mountains Elk Herd are also important to keep numbers up.

Another area that the management plan seeks to address is public awareness. It's important for the general population to be aware of their elk herds and to visit them to see the majesty and beauty of these animals. Promotion of viewing and photography opportunities allows residents of the state of Washington to become familiar with the animals in their state. It's important to encourage private landowners to improve the elk habitats on their properties as well, so that the Blue Mountains herd does not become one that survives only in federal or state-owned habitats.
About the Author
Scott Peters is an avid deer hunter, outdoorsman and rifle scope retailer. For more information on scopes please go to Leupold Hunting Scopes.
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