Scientific Wildlife Management?

6x6 Bull Elk-Hunt Zone 2

 Many who support the Pennsylvania elk hunt, as it is currently implemented, base their defense of the season on scientific grounds. It seems they focus on three major points. 1. Science demands that there be a hunt. 2. The number and quality of large bulls has increased since the hunt began. 3. We have a healthier herd today as a result of the hunt.

Few would contest that science and scientific management is a fine thing, but is our wildlife managed by scientific principles? While it is certainly true that The Pennsylvania Game Commission does much scientific research on wildlife species, it is by no means a given that management decisions are always based on scientific fact. A decision may be based entirely on science, partly on science, or science may be completely disregarded.

Gathering Scientific Data At Check Station

 A classic case in point is the elk license allocations during the early years of the hunt. The first year saw a somewhat reasonable allocation of 40 licenses (if we accept that we had to have an elk hunt at that point in time), but in 2002, the allocation was increased to 70. According to a source speaking on condition of anonymity, a high ranking Pennsylvania Game Commission official, made a statement that he wanted 70 licenses this year(2002), 100 next(2003), and 150 (2004) on the following. This caused some heated discussion and it was reported said, that "no one up north asked for that many licenses", which translates into that those closely involved with  the elk program  from The Northcentral Region did not recommend these allocations.

Certainly this individual's input should merit serious consideration since he had to have an excellent understanding of elk management issues based on scientific fact, or did he? What qualifications did this individual have for his position?  He had previously served on The Sportsman's Advisory Council, came from a business background, and was reportedly a personal friend of Governor Tom Ridge, but he had no formal training in wildlife management. Like most outdoor enthusiasts he was, well lets say, enthusiastic about the outdoors, and this spilled over in an unbridled enthusiasm for Pennsylvania elk hunting.. He reportedly did not follow through with a request for 150 licenses in 2004, but rather asked for 100 once again. This provoked a strong public reaction, after which the allocation was reduced to 40. Does this sound like management based on sound scientific principles?

Ironically many who endorse "scientific management" when it suits their purposes, question the "science" when it does not. An excellent case in point is Pennsylvania's deer management program. I would wager that some of the most vocal defenders of the elk program, are less than pleased with the deer program, which is of course supposedly based on sound scientific principles, yet they do not question the science behind elk management or if decisions are made based on scientific principles.

While some may claim that science dictates the proper use of the elk resource, in fact, the herd can be scientifically managed for tourism, for hunting purposes, or a combination of both,  but science does not necessarily determine the proper use of a resource. In fact it is only one of many factors that influence the management of any wildlife species. According to PGC elk biologist Jon Diberti, "The PGC must consider the biological, sociological, economic, and environmental issues associated with the elk when developing a management plan",(DiBerti-Elk Management Plant For Elk In Pennsylvania 2006-20016). The plan also states that the herd has both a biological and a social carrying capacity,and that neither has yet been reached (Management Plan: p-12. If this is the case, it appears there is no scientific necessity for a hunt at this time.


  1. Great information Willard! I actually met a professor recently that worked on many projects a few years ago researching the Elk Herd and his view is that the hunt is tailored to meet the needs of whomever is in charge at the time. I am more than curious to see where it all goes in the future.

  2. Wonderful post. Great research. It's good to see the truth come out.