7.02.2013

View From The Saddle: EHZ 7 and What The Future Holds*

The 2013-14 Hunting and Trapping Digest is now available with the purchase of a hunting license or it may be viewed as a pdf. file by visiting the PGC Website. Click on the icon of the Digest and it will take you to a page giving you various options as to what portions you want to download.

The Digest features a stunning cover photo of the character bull, "Uncle Bob" a superb 7x8 that was killed near Weedville in the 2012 elk season.  The photo was taken by PGC Wildlife Conservation Specialist Hal Korber during the rut last year.  It appears to be taken in "The Saddle" and the bull is silhouetted against the setting sun.   I do not have a photograph of the bull that is anywhere near the quality of the one taken by Mr. Korber, but I am posting one of mine to show the bull being discussed.

A Photo of  "Uncle Bob" taken by me during the 2012 Rut
Upon checking the new digest, it is now certain that Elk Hunt Zone(EHZ) 7 is the old No Hunt Zone.(NHZ) and as best as I can tell it has the same boundary as the NHZ has had in recent years. Even though this is now classified as an EHZ there is no license allocation for it.  At this point it makes no difference and is simply a play with words, but the implications loom large.  It seems likely that changing the classification will not cause a vast public outcry as it did in the past because the PGC can point out that nothing has changed and no elk will be shot in the heart of the tourist area. It is likely that in time they will assign a license allocation to EHZ 7.  In the event this happens I anticipate that the response  to any complaint will be to the effect that "after it has been a EHZ for some time and no one expressed concern--and after all we are only issuing xx number of tags, which in the scheme of things is insignificant".  I must emphasize that no official has said anything like this at this point, but this is what I expect to happen.

Another item of interest is the appointment of the new PGC biologist, Jeremy Banfield,  as we discussed in the May 22nd post on this blog, which is based around PGC News Release #035-13.

Pennsylvania Outdoor News featured an article by Southwest Correspondent, Deborah Weisberg titled "New biologist brings elk wisdom from Montana in the June 21, 2013 issue.  The article gives some interesting insights into his views and how we can expect them to impact on elk management.

The following quotes by Banfield as reported by Weisberg are of special note:

Like most hunters and those in the hunting industry, Banfield eschews any close human to wildlife contact.  "People should not approach or touch the elk," he said.

He makes it clear that he works for the hunter.

"It's nice for urban people to come up and see the elk, and there are no-harvest zones in the viewing areas", he said, "but that doesn't get in my way. Game (Commission) doesn't have much to do with the tourism aspect."

Because of his position, Banfield won't be hunting either. "It would be a conflict of interest," he siad.

But I'm an outdoorsman and I"ll be targeting everything else.  My first passion is trapping, I trap beaver, muskrat, fox, and coyote.  This year, I'll be after fisher and bobcat.

He Also looks forward to bow-hunting white-tailed deer, and predator calling. "I hunt turkeys, geese and ducks and small game."

I emphasize the above material is brief excerpts from the article as written by Ms.Weisberg, while what follows is my thoughts on the interview.  I recommend that you get a copy of Pennsylvania Outdoor News and read the article in its' entirety.

In reference to his first statement, it is hard to disagree with the gist of Banfield's statement about close human/wildlife contact as someone is always willing to carry things too far with potentially disastrous results, but when examined in detail it does raise legitimate concerns is about just what is an acceptable range to be from elk.  Is approaching from 200 yards to 100 yards acceptable? What about 100 yards to 50 yards?  Why is it acceptable to approach wildlife to bow range to kill it, but not acceptable to approach it to a reasonably safe range to photograph it?  Will more and more elk viewing/photography be at unacceptably long range such as it is now at the Dent's Run Viewing Area?

Dents Run Viewing Area-Viewing Is At Extreme Range
 As quoted above,  Banfield states that he works for the hunter, which indicates he may have little understanding of the needs of the non-consumptive user. It is certainly true that the hunter does pay a substantial part of the bill for wildlife management in Pennsylvania and to that extent they are the customer base for the PGC, but  at this point in time it is unacceptable for a biologist to manage wildlife just for hunting purposes. As PGC officials like to point out, especially in reference to deer management, they are tasked with managing wildlife for society as a whole.  The crux of the problem is that society as a whole does not currently pay to support  PGC  programs and this has to change.  A substantial portion of the sporting community does not want it to change either, because at that point they lose their primary weapon against the non-consumptive user, which is of course pointing out that they are getting free use of State Game Lands.   This side of the debate never remembers that there is far more State Forest Land in Pennsylvania than State Game Lands and that their license dollars do not  support the upkeep of that land, yet they have the use of most of this for hunting and trapping purposes.

At this point it is not fair to be too critical of Mr. Banfield, as after all this is essentially a get acquainted article in a newspaper that is geared toward hunters and fishermen, so he is preaching to the choir so as to speak.  It is to be expected  that he assure the readers that he is  much like them and has many of the same beliefs and goals.

At the same time it is perfectly reasonable for the elk watcher/photographer to be somewhat apprehensive about the future of quality elk viewing. As I have pointed out repeatedly there is too much pressure directed at the bulls that visit the viewing areas on Winslow Hill and while there are more elk now at any time since the reintroduction, it seems there are less of the top tier ones on Winslow Hill.  Is the time coming that a young bull  like the one shown below will be considered to be a "big bull'.

4x4 Bull On Winslow Hill: Canon 5D MK III-Canon 500mm f4-ISO 400-1/640 sec. f4.5
One thing seems certain--at this point the days of following the life of a bull on Winslow Hill from a young rack bull through maturity and old age are over in most if not all cases.

About the title of the post.
* "The Saddle" is a well known spot in Pennsylvania Elk Country for which one may view a vast expanse of the elk range.  I like to sit at the apex of "The Saddle" and enjoy the view, think about wildlife management issues, recall glorious times afield in days gone by, and anticipate hopefully more days to come.  As a result, I have decided to use "View From The Saddle" as a general title for posts which give my thoughts on elk management and other issues impacting wildlife photography and viewing in the elk range. 

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

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