After vocal opposition from hunters, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has decided not to move ahead with their original elk plan for HD 313.
We previously reported on the FWP’s intention to only allow 75 hunters in Hunting District 313 for the whole season, citing concerns that more of Yellowstone’s Northern Range herd is migrating out of the Park each winter, making them easy pickings for hunters. In addition, FWP biologists were concerned overhunting was leading to a decline in mature bulls. Indeed, the last estimate put an average 2.7 bull elk per 100 cow elk in Montana; the ideal ratio is 10 per 100.
According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the new FWP plan for HD 313 is sort of a compromise measure. Anyone with a general license can hunt there in the first three weeks of the season. After that, only 50 permits will be issued for the last two weeks of the season. The FWP would also be allowed to close parts of the district for emergencies. And while the FWP is optimistic the measure will satisfy both hunters and biologists, some aren’t so sure. From the Chronicle:
Agency officials think the move will inch them toward the goal of shoring up mature bull numbers while offering ample opportunity for hunters.
“We still think that it will move us in the right direction,” said John Vore, FWP’s game management bureau chief. “It just won’t move us as quickly in the right direction.”
But Mac Minard, executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association and one of the leading opponents, has some doubts.
“I don’t believe it will do anything,” he said.
The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission will make a final decision Thursday, as it finishes setting hunting seasons for the next two years. Along with the changes to hunting district 313, the panel is considering regulation changes on everything from mule deer to turkeys.
But now that decision time is here, Minard feels like FWP’s new idea came “out of left field.”
“I never heard a call for this approach,” he said.
Minard put forward his own ideas to solve the problem, like forcing people with permits for 313 to only hunt there and only harvest a six point bull elk. Vore said they considered those ideas, but felt it wouldn’t solve the problem, especially the six point restriction since it would target the animals they want to preserve.
Vore thinks FWP’s new proposal will offer plenty of opportunity for hunters during the first few weeks of the season. He also said that migration out of Yellowstone often hasn’t happened yet that early in the season, meaning the elk will be harder for hunters to find.
Nick Gevock, the conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, said his group will support the department’s new recommendation. He supported the original proposal but said the department’s new recommendation will balance the need to reduce harvest with the public’s desire to hunt.
“We think it should be given a chance to work for a couple of years,” Gevock said.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission has the final say, and will weigh in Thursday morning.
The Decline (And Fall?) Of Yellowstone Elk
The Greater Yellowstone Region’s elk population, of course, has been in decline since the mid-90s. From a high count of approximately 19,000, the northern Yellowstone elk population has dropped to around 4,900 according to an aerial survey conducted a few months back. And while that survey claimed the elk population was “stable,” some said the count only confirmed their concerns over hunting. Some sources pin blame on the reintroduction of wolves. Others point out changing climatic conditions in the Park.
Of course, it’s possible there are more elk in the Park than the surveys realize. Utah State University is currently working on a “elk sightability study,” which will gauge whether biologists are really seeing every elk or whether some are just cleverly camouflaged.