Considering that the small free-ranging Pennsylvania elk is a significant tourist attraction and that it benefits both the state and local economies and considering that according to the PGC’s 2006 Elk Management Plan neither the Biological Carrying Capacity nor the Sociological Carrying Capacity have been reached or exceeded, one must ask why then was some individuals so intent on creating and currently upon carrying on this modern-day elk hunt.
If one takes the time to research this subject they will find many answers offered; population control, elimination of human-animal conflicts, gathering of biological data, etc. Of course there are many reason for hunting these animals at this time, some have merit and others perhaps not so much.
A stated goal of the 2006 Elk Management Plan is to expand the Elk Management Area from its current size of 835 square miles to an area of 3,750 square miles, allowing elk to fill areas of public land where they currently do not exist. Why then is there a hunt?
Let us take a moment simply to consider the angle of money and the role it plays in the management of our states most magnificent wild animal.
First we must take a quick look back into the history of our herd. After initial stocking and limited hunting the hunting was eliminated and for many decades only a small population remained. During this time the population changed very little overall. What you might ask caused this tiny herd to grow into the healthy herd we have today? From the research that I have done it can primarily be summed up with one word, HABITAT.
Elk, while requiring the shelter of the forest also require herbaceous opening containing their preferred foods to prosper. Herbaceous opening do not just naturally occur in Pennsylvania’s elk range, they must be constructed and sometimes at considerable cost. Providing this habitat has been the key to growing our elk herd, it is the key to the current health of the elk herd. Habitat is the key, not the hunting as has been disingenuously offered by some who have both a macho and financial stake in the hunt.
Please remember that in most part our PGC is funded by the hunters and trappers of the commonwealth. Quoting from the 2008-09 PGC Annual Report: “As Pennsylvania’s wildlife management agency, the Game Commission is responsible for managing more than 460 species of wild birds and mammals. Primary attention, due to funding sources and limitations, is directed to select game species and the commonwealth’s most imperiled nongame species.”
In my opinion one of the primary reasons behind the current elk hunt is all about the money, not that the PGC is trying to fund other species or projects with elk tag and application monies, but rather to justify the large investment of money and resources into the elk management program.
As long as hunters and trappers are the primary source of funding for our wildlife management agencies, wildlife will be managed primarily for the consumptive sports and not necessarily in the best interest of the species being managed.