12.16.2010

Controlling Pennsylvania's Elk Population-Is Shooting Necessary?

Elk In Hunt Zone 2-Day Before Elk Season: photo by W.Hill

In the most recent post, Pennsylvania Elk-As Wild As Any?, a reader raised an excellent question:

"I also own a family camp on Houston Hill, and we are privileged enough to have Elk come right into our backyard. Elk on our mountain seem to be a little bit more skittish than the ones around Winslow Hill, but not by much. I know that's a subjective comment, but it's the only way I know to describe it. I agree that hunting these Tame Elk is like shooting fish in a barrel, but how would you propose we control the Elk Population if we do not hunt them? I would love to hear your ideas/proposals."
Thanks,
Curt

I begin by stating that I believe that the Pennsylvania elk herd is of more value to society as an easily viewable natural resource than as the object of a limited hunt in which only a small number of people will ever participate.  With that being said though, there is room for both world class tourism and a hunt to co-exist in Pennsylvania, but for this to be, the herd needs to be managed in different ways in different areas.  Hunting for the sake of hunting itself should be conducted  in areas well away from  Winslow Hill,  but  it is uncertain as to  how wild elk in these areas are also. For example I have heard from reliable sources that they find the elk on Moore Hill to be as wild as whitetails in many cases, yet  certain stories of hunts in  the remote areas raise a flag in my mind. One of these describes a situation in the Quehanna Wild Area in which a hunter fired a "challenge shot" at a bull at short range (sounds like another word for missed...in all of my years of hunting I have not heard of firing a shot to challenge an animal, but such is the way the story goes ). The party then followed the animal's tracks to a nearby food plot where the bull was feeding in spite of being recently shot at, and the hunter then killed the animal.

But I digress, let's assume that elk in areas such as Quehanna, Moore Hill,etc. are sufficiently wild to justify calling shooting them hunting, this does not excuse trying to portray the elk on Gray Hill or Winslow Hill as being "as wild as any" and portraying shooting them as being a challenging hunt, yet, by looking at PGC harvest maps it is obvious that most of the elk killed since season resumed in 2001 have been taken in the Winslow Hill /Gray Hill areas, and the 555 corridor.  With that being said,  there are possibly times that elk in this area would need to be shot to control the population, but that should be limited to antlerless elk only, and it should be plainly stated up front that this would not always be a fair chase hunt, but rather the necessary removal of surplus animals. The animals would be just as dead, but at least we would be honest about the situation.

2001-2009 Elk Harvest Map: Source-The Pennsylvania Game Commission


In the documentary film, "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd", I advanced several ideas designed to give further protection to the large bulls that frequent the elk viewing areas. These ideas should  result in less killing of acclimated elk as well.

One possibility is to retain the current No Hunt Zone as an area where no elk of either sex would be killed, with problem animals being relocated by trap and transfer. The No Hunt Zone should possibly be expanded to protect the areas in the Medix Run, Benezette, Rt 555 Corridor.

Alternate No Hunt-Population Control Only Hunt Zones From "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd"-map is approximation only not accurate in fine detail.

Second would be a substantial zone around this area which would be a population control only hunt. There would be no bull tags issued for this area and only enough antlerless tags to contain the population at an acceptable level. It would not be portrayed as a challenging hunt, but rather as a population control tool, held only when strictly needed and not utilized as an excuse to conduct a yearly hunt.

At this point it is not clear that we are at the place where we need to control the size of the Winslow Hill sub-herd by shooting.  According to The Management Plan For Elk In Pennsylvania 2006-20016,( In the following quote, BCC means biological carrying capacity or the amount of elk the habitat will support and SCC means social carrying capacity or what society will tolerate) " The BCC for elk in Pennsylvania is unknown, but there is no indication that the population is reaching it. None of the studied indications mentioned above have been observed. In fact, elk appear to be reproducing and reaching weights above what is expected and survival rates are normal to high. The SCC is also unknown at this time. However, indications are that number hasn't been reached either. Most interested parties haven't complained of too many elk and would actually like to see more. As we gather more information, we will balance the numbers so that we do not go over the BCC but still maintain an elk population that provides enjoyment for the people of the Commonwealth.(written by elk biologist Jon Marc DiBerti)

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

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