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Hanford Elk Herd Management Plan - State of Washington

Jan 11, 2008
The Hanford Elk Herd, also known as the Rattlesnake Hills Elk Herd, has been rapidly expanding in recent years, especially in the Fitzner-Eberhart Arid Lands Ecology (ALE) reserve of the Hanford site. This reserve is a restricted access area with unique habitats that is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This organization is currently developing a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the management of this area. An important component of this plan will be the conflicting management issues that have occurred in relation to this herd. It will be a coordinated effort between the USFWS, the DOE (Department of Energy), and the WDFW to manage the elk in the long term.

Two major subspecies of elk reside in Washington State. Roosevelt elk are indigenous to the Pacific coastal region. Rocky Mountain elk live primarily in the eastern part of the state. Washington is sixth in ranking for population of North American continental elk. Around 62,000 elk reside in the state, split about equally between the two subspecies. The Hanford Elk Herd is made up of Rocky Mountain Elk. Historically, these animals inhabited arid shrub steppe habitats in the Columbia Basin. However, by 1850, they had been hunted to extinction. Modern Washington elk, including those that make up the Hanford herd, are descended from fifty individuals imported in 1913, from Montana, or from later transplants released in the Blue Mountains and Colockum areas.

In 1930 the elk population in the state was around 15,000. It peaked in 1970 at around 69,000. Recently, many populations have shown a trend towards population decline. However, the Yakima elk and populations of animals in northeastern Washington have not had this problem, and have shown continuous, dramatic increases in population through their histories. The Rattlesnake Hills, or Hanford Elk Herd, has particularly shown continual growth since its probably beginning in 1972, as an offshoot from the Yakima population.

In the past, liberal hunting seasons have been used in an attempt to control the size of this population. Between 1986 and the present day, the seasons have varied between thirty and nearly sixty days in length. In some cases, only bulls with visible antlers were considered legal animals. In other seasons, mixed sex hunting was permitted. Harvesting has, however, been inconsistent from year to year. This is because of the lack of hunting access in the ALE and poor access from private lands. Recent increased cooperation by landowners has increased the number of elk taken. However, hunting alone is not an effective solution to the growing population.

The expansion of this herd's numbers poses a threat to the unique habitats of the ALE Reserve, through damage caused by these animals. In addition, nearby private lands are also at risk of suffering heavy crop and property damage. These dangers need to be addressed in any elk management plan for this area.

The current management plan for the Hanford Elk Herd is intended to provide basic information on the elk and their situation, to help discuss alternative actions and to set the direction for the elk population's management, both on the ALE and on adjacent public and private lands. It has a number of major goals, which include the following:

Provision of background information about the elk population in Rattlesnake Hills and on the Hanford Site, as well as in Game Management Units (GMUs) 371 and 372.

Identification of problems that are associated with the Rattlesnake Hills elk population.

Identification of appropriate parties with which cooperation should be begun. These may include federal, state, and local agencies and governments, private landowners, local tribes who may function as co-managers, and other parties which have an interest in the management of the elk herd. Coordination and cooperation with each of these parties will be necessary for effective elk management.

Discussion of the various options and alternatives for the current management and future of this subpopulation of the larger Yakima Elk Herd is also important. It is also vital to ensure that any actions taken in this plan to not preclude the management options that are being developed by the USFWS.
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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