4.20.2011

Too Many Elk On Winslow Hill?

As we noted in the post of Thursday April 14, the Pennsylvania Game Commission' drastically increased the elk license allocations for the 2011 season, for Hunt Zones 2 and 8, which are those that most directly impact the viewing areas and center of elk related tourism on Winslow Hill.  It is claimed that an increased kill is needed because this is the largest sub-herd and has showed the most increase. To be quite frank I have noticed the increased visibility of elk in this area in the last  few years, but have been reluctant to comment about the situation in the fear that it would help draw attention to what some are sure to perceive as a problem.  While some may claim that this perceived problem is a result of not killing enough elk, based on my years of experience as a Game Lands Maintenance Worker and later Game Lands Maintenance Supervisor with the PGC, I am reasonably certain that this seemingly large increase in the herd on Winslow Hill has been caused by the massive amounts of reclamation work that has been done in the area during the past decade.  As a result, there are more high quality grasses available as food for elk than ever before, which tends to draw elk from surrounding areas and concentrate them in a relatively small area.

Bull Elk Follows Cow:  Reclaimed Area Of SGL 311: Grasses planted among cover crop of grain.

 Elk, like any other animal, gravitate toward the best food sources and at this time a significant proportion of this improved habitat is visible from the elk viewing area at Dewey Road, which I persist in calling "The Gilbert Viewing Area".  This will change in a short amount of time whether more hunting pressure is directed at the area or not.  The reason for this change will be that the quality of the grass will decline and then the elk will shift the focus of their feeding to areas where the best food may be found.  The only way that the large herd will remain concentrated  there is if a significant portion of the grasslands is renewed periodically by replanting.

As an example, I recall that in late summer of 2006 the reclaimed area between the Maynard Woodring property and Elk View Diner (this had been an area of slag piles, etc. but was now a meadow) was covered with a carpet of luscious grasses including different varieties of clovers and trefoil and a large number of elk were attracted to the area.

Area Near Elk View Diner Carpeted With Clover And Trefoil: Photo by W.Hill

This has remained a good spot to see elk, but it was not used nearly as much last fall as in the period from 2006-2009, and the reason is that the more desirable varieties of grass were dying out, while freshly planted reclaimed areas near Dewey Road, The Saddle, and at The Elk Country Visitor Center, attracted the lions share of the elk.  The PGC has also traditionally planted at least one food plot at the Dent's Run Viewing Area (the one with the information center) and usually one or two at The Gilbert.  This has served to keep elk coming to these areas in most years, but I do not think it is sufficient to attract and hold the 150-200 animals that the PGC says is in the area at present, so regardless as to whether or not they shoot more elk on Winslow Hill, you likely won't see as many there in the not too distant future, unless the PGC maintains an aggressive planting program in the area.

PGC Prepares Food Plot For Planting At Gilbert Viewing Area
Another example as to why this is likely the case is the rut of 2007.  The PGC planted the usual food plots at both the Gilbert and Dent's Run viewing areas, but The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which then owned the Elk Country Visitor Center property, planted a lot of high quality forage in their food plots, while there was an extremely large  newly reclaimed area on State Game Lands 311, which was planted in fall grain and highly desirable grasses.  This was located in the back country toward the mountains to the West of Dewey Road.

Remote Reclaimed Area Of SGL 311: In 2007 this and plots at RMEF attracted many elk usually seen At Gilbert and Dent's Run Viewing Areas
 There were many times that there weren't many elk to be seen in the usual viewing areas and some people who made only a one day trip didn't see one bull.  There were a lot of complaints that year that there were no elk on Winslow Hill, but the bottom line was that most were at The Elk Foundation where the general public was not permitted to be, or at the reclaimed area, which required a substantial walk to access.  Most of the public didn't know how to find it anyway, and it would likely have been perceived to be a problem had they found out about it and arrived in large numbers to look for elk.  I heard the person working at the information booth at the Dent's Run viewing area that fall tell most of what I have just related to several groups of people, as I was browsing the literature and displays in the building.

The bottom line is that it seems likely that this herd will disperse to a certain extent, if not a great deal, once this bonanza of high quality food is gone.  In the meantime the PGC has started down the slippery slope of increasing license allocations in the area.  If they were concerned only about elk over-population as they claim, why has pressure been substantially increased on the bulls also?  I fully understand that many of the bulls that one sees on Winslow Hill during the rut, come from other areas to Winslow Hill and are in another area entirely when hunting season arrives, but with that being said there were a substantial number of large bulls that did make that general area their year around range and most of these animals have been shot.  In some years, Pennsylvania has a 100% success rate on bulls and it is seldom much less than that, so in effect this means it is highly likely that eight more of the bulls that frequent the tourist areas will be killed this fall.


From my point of view, it is amazing that we overshot the whitetail buck population to the extent that the PGC enacted antler restrictions to enable more bucks to live long enough to grow somewhat better antlers, yet we seem hell bent on killing the exceptional bull elk and making the same mistake with them that we did with the deer.

In the near future, I plan to further explore how and why we have arrived at this point in Pennsylvania Elk Management.


Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

4.14.2011

PGC Targets Winslow Hill Elk Herd

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 12, 2011

Release #045-11

GAME COMMISSIONERS ADOPT 2011-12 SEASONS AND BAG LIMITS

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits for 2011-12, including big and small game seasons and furbearer seasons.

The Board also adopted antlerless deer license allocations for the 22 Wildlife Management Units, and are listed in the article below.

For those unable to view the webcasts, a three-part “on-demand” video recording of the staff reports from April 11 and today’s Board actions can be viewed by going to/pennsylvaniagamecommissionhttp://www.livestream.com/pennsylvaniagamecommission and clicking on the “April 2011 Board Meeting” icon.

The remainder of the News Release 045-11 gives a detailed summation of seasons and bag limits, which may be read by clicking here: Release 045-11.

The following is an article and commentary by me, describing the discussion of the elk situation on the Webcast as I understood it.

Winlsow Hill Herd To Be Targeted: Photo by W.Hill
A very small portion of the April 11th webcast concerns the Pennsylvania elk herd. According to Dr. Chris Rosenberry the elk herd is increasing overall, and is stable in some areas, but the Winslow Hill herd is the largest sub-herd and it has increased the most of any since last year. As a result the PGC has recommended that the harvest in Hunt Zone 2 be doubled from last year's allocation. This year 12 cows and 4 bulls, YES FOUR Bulls, will be legal targets near the viewing areas on Winslow Hill. This of course does not count the Governor's Conservation Tag bull, which of course can be taken there also ,for a total of 5 Yes Five possible bulls killed in the center of elk related tourism.  It is unclear at this point if this recommendation was finalized at this meeting.To underscore the importance of the Pennsylvania Elk Herd to the PGC,  Rosenberry's elk presentation was an astonishing 1 min. 35 seconds long, before he moved on to the deer.

If approved,  this leads one to question just what level of commitment the PGC does have to elk related tourism on Winslow Hill.  Why double the number of bull permits in this area to control the population?  One can be certain that it will not be raghorns that will be killed!

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill