Pennsylvania Elk Management: "Wild About Elk" Part 2

John Di Berti, PGC Elk Biologist made several more points at the "Wild About Elk " workshop.  I will cover some of them below.  They are not verbatim quotes, but rather a synopsis of what was presented, with some of my input such as in comparing the relative reproduction capabilities of elk and deer.

PGC Elk Biologist Jon Di Berti Gives PowerPoint Presentation-Photo by W.Hill
  • Cow elk usually do not give birth until they are three years of age and they usually only have one calf, in contrast to whitetail deer that may give birth at one year of age, usually give birth at two years, and frequently have twins and sometimes triplets.  In practical terms this means that elk do not have nearly the reproductive potential that deer do, and therefore it is much easier to control their numbers so that they do not damage their habitat. 
  • Dealing with elk human conflicts is an important concern in elk management. This segment was covered by Wildlife Conservation Officer Doty McDowell and will be covered in depth in a future post.
  • Maintaining a healthy herd with a good age structure is extremely important.  It seems that we are basically doing well with the elk here in Pennsylvania, with the exception that there are not enough bulls making it past the 51/2 year point.  According to Mr. Diberti, a bull will reach his maximum potential between the age of 6-9 years, but the ability to grow large racks may continue past the ninth year. 
Young Bull Browsing: Bulls Must Be At Least 6-9 Years Old To Reach Full Potential-Photo by W.Hill
Mature Bull Taken on Same Day-Note Extreme Difference In Antler Size-Photo by W.Hill

  • The number of tags issued does not seem to greatly influence the number of applications received. Over 50,000 applications were received for the first hunt in 2001, but numbers then declined to a low of 17,245 in 2007. They then increased slightly in 2008 and 2009 and have basically stabilized at just below 20,000 applicants.
  • The hunt has not significantly lowered elk mortality from other causes such as killing for crop damage, roadkill, or natural causes, but rather is additional mortality above and beyond these factors.
  • Habitat management practices directed toward elk is beneficial to a wide variety of other species as well.  We will cover this in further detail in a future post with photos from a field tour with Land Management Officer John Dzemyan.

Original content posted at  http://pawildlifephotographer.blogspot.com/


Pennsylvania Elk: Management: A Need For More Mature Bulls

I recently attended a "Wild About Elk" workshop, which involved an afternoon of classroom training on the first day, and a morning of field study on Winslow Hill on day two.  This also included a tour of The Elk Country Visitors Center, which is currently under construction and expected to open in late September.  The workshop was sponsored by The Pennsylvania Game Commission and co-ordinated by Theresa Alberici, Wildlife Education Specialist, Harrisburg, PGC.  Administrative Assistance was by Kathy DePuy, Harrisburg, PGC.

Wild About Elk is part of Project Wild, which is administered by the Council for Environmental Education and is co-sponsored by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.  Project Wilds mission is to provide teachers with information and motivation to develop, and  present an environmental curriculum for students ranging from kindergarten through high school.  It is also geared toward informal environmental educators such as those who give presentations to sportsman clubs and civic organizations, or participate in outdoor blogging and video production.

PGC Elk Biologist Jon Di Berti Explains Radio Collars: Photo by W.Hill

PGC Elk Biologist, Jon De Berti was the first speaker and presented an excellent power-point presentation, which dealt with general information about the herd, research, and monitoring of the population.  Mr Di Berti made two points, which validated much of what I have been saying on this blog.
  • We need to manage for trophy bulls. Too many bulls are being taken at or before 5 1/2 years of age and not enough are living to reach their full potential.
I asked Mr. Di Berti if there are more large bulls today than there were before the hunt and he said there is not. The question was asked because some defenders of the hunt as it is currently implemented claim that  the bulls are getting bigger as a result of  the elk hunt and other management policies.  There is no doubt land management practices have resulted in better habitat for elk, but there seems to be no reason to believe that the hunt has increased the number and quality of mature bulls.

A Monster Bull In Pre-hunt Era- Video Still by W.Hill

 Few if any bulls live to reach this size today, a prime example being the bull pictured below, which was already a large bull in 2002, but not as impressive as the bull above.  It survived the first season, but not the second.  It was acclimated to humans and was commonly seen around Medix Run and Winslow Hill.  It was allegedly killed at Medix Run that year.  If a bull reaches exceptional size now, a tremendous effort is mounted to take him, and there is little chance that he will survive for a significant length of time unless he remains in the No Hunt Zone or property where elk hunting is not permitted.

Acclimated Bull February 2002: Photo-W.Hill
Mr. Di Berti also addressed elk numbers, and his presentation reinforced information we received last year that indicated that there were likely less elk than what many think. In fact there are likely less elk now than there were before the hunt began contrary to the claims of some.
  • Population estimates are far from an exact science. "There is 95% confidence that our elk population is somewhere from about 450 animals, to just over 1,000 animals."
Mr. Di Berti went on to explain that often when allocations were set in the past,  many PGC Commissioners focused on the high number, which resulted in  license allocations being higher than could be justified, because the actual number of elk was much lower.  Since 2008 allocations have been based on the lower number known  as MNA, which means minimum number alive.

According to Carol Mulvihill, writing in the June 19, 2010 edition of Endeavor News, "the herd is smaller than the 700-plus elk population that existed before hunting began in 2001." Ms Mulvihill then goes on to make the point that it may be time to let the herd grow to 800-1,200 animals.  I recall that this was the plan when the trap and transfer program was taking place during the late 1990s, but this figure seemed to vanish from discussion when  trap and transfer was discontinued due to resistance from landowners.  Still the elk have naturally spread over a larger area and it seems that the herd could be allowed to increase to those numbers without putting undue pressure on the habitat or the inhabitants of Pennsylvania's Elk Country.

Original content posted at  http://pawildlifephotographer.blogspot.com/


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