The well-documented decline of a once healthy elk population in Units 14, 15 and 16 has reached a critical level and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has taken notice.
"I don't see how we won't have change," said Clearwater Commissioner, Dan Blanco, in a recent telephone interview. "The Elk City Zone has been listed by F&G as under objective for several seasons now."
"Which potential changes are not certain as of yet," Commission Blanco continued, but added, "public input will be absolutely crucial in carving a path for the future of our elk herds."
A closed-door meeting held earlier this winter between state officials and a group of local concerned sportsmen, the Clearwater Big Game Coalition, has fueled a growing effort aimed at significant adjustment to elk seasons in the Elk City Zone.
The movement has steadily picked up steam since the initial Nov. 20 meeting in Grangeville and now garners support from several influential outdoor organizations. These include, but are not limited to, the Idaho Wildlife Federation, North Idaho Whitetails Forever and Foundation for Wildlife.
Several potential changes are being weighed, including multiple options strongly supported by local hunters.
A reduction in cow harvest on public land is being weighed. It is widely considered common sense, with the entire zone under objective and reproductive rates woefully low, that decreasing the female harvest would be immediately beneficial. We do not have a population base strong enough to withstand the elimination of several generations of elk with one well-placed bullet.
Somewhat more controversial, but nevertheless strongly supported by the Coalition, is a reduction in spike bull harvest. A grossly high percentage of bulls taken in the Elk City Zone carry their first set of antlers. These bulls never have the opportunity to reach maturity and their high mortality rate creates poor age structure within the herd. With such a small pool of mature bulls covering the cows it guarantees the next generation of elk calves will not be from the seed of the biggest, strongest males as nature intended. Sadly, they will carry the genetics of what inferior bulls are left behind and that doesn't bode well for the future.
A reduction in late season hunting opportunities is also being floated, as well as elimination of the second bull tag available to hunters who have already harvested an elk. Both options are sustainable in areas with healthy elk numbers, but the Elk City Zone is not one of those areas.
With the deadline for setting big game seasons approaching, Idaho Fish and Game is requesting public input. There will be a meeting held at the Senior Center in Grangeville at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 13.
Any sportsmen with concerns regarding the decline of these large ungulates are strongly advised to attend and show their support for what's left of our once iconic elk herd.
Larry Hatter is a co-chair of the Clearwater Big Game Coalition, an outdoorsman and a writer. Find more of Larry’s writing online at Worldwide Outdoor Author on Facebook.