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North Ranier Elk Herd Management Plan - State of Washington

Jan 10, 2008
The North Ranier Elk Herd is one of ten within Washington State. It is located north of Mt. Ranier, in a range that includes King and Pierce counties. The majority of this herd's members are location on the western slopes of the Cascade Range. However, there are also small populations located in pockets of habitat near suburban developments and cities, as well as in the foothills. This elk herd is of value both to the general population of Washington State as an aesthetic, recreational, and economic resource, and as a cultural, subsistence and ceremonial one to the area's native people. In 1989, this herd numbered around 3,400 elk. It has recent declined to around 1,845 elk, a decline of forty-six percent. Current management objectives for elk population of this herd include an increase of herd size to around 2,800 elk.

The range of the North Ranier Elk Herd encompasses an area of about 2,834 square miles (7,341 km). The herd occupies the headwaters of both the Clearwater and White rivers in the north part of Mount Ranier National Park, as well as the greater Puyallup River drainage in the western part of that park. Land in the area is a mix of private, federal, and state ownership. The largest portion of the area belongs to the U.S. Forest Service, but there are also large parcels owned by industrial timber companies. Most lands, including federally and state owned land, are managed to produce timber. Forest Service lands are managed for a number of different uses, including recreation and wildlife, in addition to timber. There is an emphasis on management and growth of old growth forests in the Forest Service lands at this time.

Generally, this area consists of low to mid-level mountains, as well as forested terrain. Steep, difficult to access parts of the elk herd's range include higher, snow covered elevations along the Cascade Crest. Elevations are between four hundred feet and 14,000 feet (the summit of Mt. Ranier). Elk occupy most of this range, up to nearly 7,500 feet, in alpine and sub-alpine meadows of the national park area during summer and fall. Most of the area belove timberline is covered in coniferous forest.

Originally, the herd area was made up of unbroken mature forest, with a large scale fire occurring about every four hundred years. Clear cut timber operations have greatly changed almost all the forests outside Mt. Ranier National Park, making the area a patchwork of young and recently clear cut forest. This has affected the distribution and numbers of the North Ranier elk herd.

Currently, the most elk in this herd live in the White River unit. This particular sub herd migrates between the high alpine meadows of Mt. Rainier National Park and their winter range in the north. The major migration routes include Buck Creek, Haller Pass, the West Fork White River, and Huckleberry Creek. Between fifteen and thirty percent of elk do not migrate.

Current management plans intend to make little to no change in the distribution of this herd. Commercial and recreational timberland allow for growth in population, and elk near urban and suburban development will probably continue to decline. Elk-human conflict in these areas is expected to increase, meaning that there will be more nuisance complaints and concerns about damage caused by the animals.

Plans for the management of the North Rainier Elk Herd include better data collection to improve over all management, general increase in numbers, and providing opportunities for hunters without causing numbers to decline. Post hunting season numbers should exceed a ratio of twelve bulls for every hundred cows. Local hunting of black bear and cougar is intended to be coordinated to maintain the elk population appropriately, as the numbers of these predators have increased in recent years. In addition, cooperation with local tribes is planned, in order to help implement the conservation and management of these animals. In areas where elk expansion is desirable, partnerships are to be developed in order to increase the amount, availability, and quality of elk habitat.
About the Author
Scott Peters is an avid deer hunter, outdoorsman and rifle scope retailer. For more information on scopes please go to Nikon Rifle Scopes.
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