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Olympic Elk Herd Management Plan - State of Washington

Jan 11, 2008
The Olympic Elk Herd is one of ten that have been identified in the state of Washington. It's located on the Olympic Peninsula, west of Hood Canal, and north of the Chehalis River. This herd, unlike many others, has a similar modern distribution to the one it has held historically. The herd's numbers were the highest in the late 1970s. A conservative estimate put the number of elk in the herd at that time at around 12,000 members. Currently, based on a number of data sources, including telemetry studies, mark-resight surveys, and harvest data, the population is estimated to be at around 8,600.

Much of the land used by elk in this area is publicly owned. There are over 922,000 acres in Olympic National Park. Additionally, the Olympic National Forest lands near the park make up another 643,000 acres. Through the Department of Natural Resources, the State of Washington manages 368,000 acres of forest lands in this area. Another 255,000 acres are part of Indian Reservation lands. The remaining land belongs to private residents, agriculture, and industrial timber companies. The central core of the area is made up of the Olympic Mountains. They are surrounded by very low lowlands nearly level. Strips of lowland vary between two and ten miles wide on the east side, ten to twenty miles wide on the west side, and thirty miles wide along the peninsula's south side.

Human impact on this elk herd has occurred both directly and indirectly. Commercial timber harvesting and management of the forest land afterwards have had the largest impact, opening up areas with abundant forage for elk. Numbers of elk increased, resulting in the highest population during the 1970s. As more intensive management in logged areas has begun recently, the amount of forage available to elk has decreased. Since burning clear cuts has been curtailed, less ideal environments for the development of forage for elk have been created. Instead, timber companies have chosen to spray herbicides, removing plants that are eaten by elk. Road construction for logging activities has also had an impact, as elk avoid roads, and these roads also give more access to legitimate hunters and to poachers.

The biggest source of mortality in the Olympic Elk Herd is harvesting by hunters. The increased availability of roads has encouraged this, as easier travel makes finding animals and transporting them a simpler task. Bigger clearcut areas mean hunters have an easier time seeing animals in the field. Overhunting in the 1980s produced a major decline in the numbers of this animal. The most likely reason for this decline is a large harvest of antlerless elk during the late 1980s and early 1990s. A low reproductive rate, coupled with overharvesting of cows, can cause the population to decline speedily. However, the current numbers are up thirty-four percent from the mid-1990s estimated population of 6,000 elk. This means that recent restrictions on human access to the animals is replenishing their population.

Currently, goals for management of the Olympic Elk Herd include cooperating closely with affected Native American tribes, as well as managers of private and public land. Maintaining adequate elk habitat on lands controlled by these groups is an important part of managing these animals. Additional goals include increasing the combined numbers of elk to at least 11,350 individuals outside of Olympic National Park, maintaining a proportion of twelve bulls to every hundred cows after the hunting season is over, and increasing and improving habitat where it is a limiting factor in achieving the population goals in the management plan.

Since elk can be a nuisance to private landowners, minimization of damage caused by elk is also a concern. Work with landowners to minimize road densities in areas where too much traffic is a problem is planned, as well as work to enhance available elk forage and habitat on private land. Better survey accuracy is also desired, so as to have a more accurate idea of the current elk population. Generally, the management plan calls for the reversal of the Olympic Herd's decline in numbers, in order to ensure that populations in the Olympic Peninsula will be huntable for the foreseeable future.
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 for Hunting.
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