A journey initiated by a few dozen local hunters pleading the case of a languishing elk herd, culminated, on March 13, with a unanimous vote by a state-wide panel of Fish and Game commissioners to drastically reduce all elk hunting in the Elk City Zone.
“It’s about time something is done to help the elk in this region,” said commissioner Dan Blanco, “and we can thank the people of Grangeville for getting the ball rolling.”
In steady decline since the early 2000’s, a once vibrant elk population in the Clearwater mountains is now a shadow of its former self. A combination of habit loss coupled with the introduction of a super predator, the non-indigenous timber wolf, has proven too much for the large ungulates to withstand.
A quick glance at Idaho Fish and Game harvest statistics exhibits a decline of approximately 60 percent over the last fifteen years and with calf survival rates and cow conception rates at historical lows, the future seemed ominous.
That’s when a group of backwoods, Idaho County brethren, whose only doctorates are etched with the trails and rivers of the ever-changing land they call home, decided to take a stand against the impending “Elkpocolypse!”
The penultimate moment came late in the evening of March 12, as three chosen representatives, Donnie Sickels, Miles Hatter and myself, testified at the Capitol before the panel of commissioners.
When the dust settled change had come to the Elk City Zone for the first time in two decades.
A 20 percent reduction in all general tags will be mandated zone wide. This includes rifle “B” tags and archery/muzzleloader “A” tags. Cow season has been shortened as well.
The two week muzzleloader season in Unit 14, which took place in late November and early December, has been reduced to three days total. Completely removed is the second tag available to hunters who have already harvested an elk. The second tag has been a mystery for many years.
The question by most sportsmen was why, in a zone well under objective, was the opportunity to shoot two elk even available? Another difference from years past is an increase in predator harvest, most notably an increase from five to ten wolf tags allowed per hunter or trapper.
A modest goal of thirty to forty bulls, as well as forty to fifty cows and their future offspring will potentially be saved every calendar year. These figures may not seem drastic enough initially, but, given the chance to accumulate over time, will hopefully tip the scales in favor of the beleaguered wapiti.
The new regulations are simple in design, but broad in scope and, understandably, not all hunters will be satisfied. But, it’s important to remember, when taking on a problem of this magnitude, the answer is rarely simple.
It’s fair to say we as hunters don’t deserve to shoulder the responsibility of a devastated elk herd. After all, we didn’t unleash nature’s most efficient eating machine (canis lupus) upon the unsuspecting ungulates.
Why should we bear the burden?
The answer is simple in my opinion.
It’s because we are the only ones who can.
Unfortunately, change will not come overnight for an elk herd which has been neglected for the better part of two decades. Early reports of a moderately high winter kill due to a brutal month of February are already surfacing.
This will further hamper recovery efforts, but with increased wolf harvest and a long overdue reduction in tags, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the elk of the Clearwater region for the first time in decades.
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.