1.31.2010

Game Commission Proposes Expanded Elk Season

Mature Bull: 2006

On January 26, 2010 The Pennsylvania Game Commission gave preliminary approval to seasons and bag limits for the coming license year. This includes significant changes in deer, bear, turkey, and elk seasons. Seasons and bag limits will be finalized during the Commission's April 19-20th meeting.

As part of these sweeping changes there is a proposal to add an extended elk season for those few who are unable to fill their tag during the regular season.

According to PGC News Release#05-10 Jan.26, 1010:

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a regulatory change to allow any unfilled antlered or antlerless elk license awarded for an annual elk season to be valid for taking either an antlered or antlerless elk anywhere within this Commonwealth outside of the elk management area during any designated extended elk season following the regular elk season.

“From time to time, elk wander outside the boundaries of the area in which the Game Commission is attempting to contain them in,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “Because of elk-human conflicts, we do not want to have elk establish populations in areas outside a certain area."

“For this reason, we want to allow elk license holders who have not taken an elk during the regular season to be able to participate in an extended season to target elk that have gone outside the elk management area."

The Board also approved the 2010 elk season to be held on Nov. 1-6, and to an extended elk hunting period for those with unfilled elk licenses to be Nov. 8-13.

In related action, with the agency continuing to work to update and implement the elk management plan, the Board gave preliminary approval to regulatory changes to address a somewhat confusing aspect of elk management policy.

Under the proposal, terms such as elk range, elk management area, elk hunt zones will be clarified in the management plan and regulations.

Under the regulatory change, Elk management area” would be defined as that portion of Wildlife Management Unit 2G in McKean, Potter, Tioga, Elk, Cameron, Clinton, Lycoming, Clearfield and Centre counties, bounded on the north by Rt. 6, on the east by Rt. 287, on the south by Rt. 220 and I-80 and on the west by Rt. 219.

Also, “elk hunt zones” would be comprised of areas as established by the Director on an annual basis prior to the opening of elk season. The divisional line between two or more elk hunt zones shall be the center of the highway, natural watercourse, other natural boundary or marked boundary.

Analysis Of The Situation:
The implementation of the expanded elk season sends a strong message that the PGC does not want the elk herd to expand into more heavily populated areas of the state, especially those in close proximity to highways with large traffic volumes. It is hard to say just what this proposed season means in the overall scheme of things.

What will actually be more telling in the short run is to see how the hunt zones are realigned and what allocations are assigned. Certain PGC officials have recently made remarks about shifting the focus of elk management from hunting to tourism, yet one can go back to a 2003 news release and find where they were saying the same thing about shifting hunting pressure away from the mature bulls and that did not happen to a significant extent until the 2009 season when the combined hunt zones were eliminated.

Whatever the final decisions that are made for this year, they are never the FINAL decisions and wildlife management policies are in continual flux from year to year and will continue to be so. Whatever the outcome, it does not change the fact that there are agency personnel that are extremely concerned about the amount of hunting pressure that has been recently directed at the mature bulls.

Some in the hunting industry bask in a state of blissful euphoria as they skim the top off of the few exceptional bulls that the state produces each year, certain that this will continue indefinitely, but they would be well advised to feel a sense of unease even as they do so, for their sport is regulated by a totally unpredictable agency.

What if The PGC decides to drastically increase the license allocation and issues 100 bull tags for the 2011 season(this scenario is assuming that the elk herd remains at about 700-800 animals)? How would this impact the attempt to build a guiding industry around killing exceptionally large bull elk? Would those who support the hunt as it is currently implemented, think this was a good idea? How long would it be until they were talking about the good old days when we had large bulls to hunt?

A scenario such as this is not LIKELY to happen anytime soon, but it is not written in stone that it will not. Those who hang their hat on the belief that wildlife is always managed by scientific principles needs to get a grip on reality and take a closer look at how important management decisions are sometimes made.

Willard Hill

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