December 8, 2022

Now Really, Who's Lying Here!

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He said, she said! You tell me what’s going on here. I asked earlier about what was really going on with the management of the Washington state elk herd in the Mount St. Helens area of northeastern Washington. I wanted to know if it was media hype, over reaction by politicians or just bad management.

At issue in this area was the death of elk from starvation during the winter yarding of elk in the wildlife refuges. A local television station began running a story saying that elk were dying in great numbers unneccessarily.

Then Rep. Ed Orcutt (R) Kalama got involved. He demanded the resignation or firing of wildlife director Jeff Koenings. All parties involved claimed justifiable reasons for their actions but no clear proof of anything.

Today, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife released the results of their survey of the Toutle Valley elk herd. The report states that 63 elk out of 629 died during the winter months, about 10%, which is within management ranges of the department.

So, now here’s what we are being told. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is saying that 63 elk died this past winter. Mark Smith, the owner of a Mount St. Helens area sporting camp, who has been very outspoken against the practices of the department, says that he knew the survey would show a 10% death rate. His comments indicated that he thinks the surveys always fall in line with management goals because of manipulation. Smith said he and others have found over 100 dead elk carcasses in the region.

Orcutt says the department survey didn’t encompass a large enough area, suggesting they didn’t want to find more dead elk.

There’s also David Douglas, a Castle Rock resident who helped Fish and Wildlife do the survey, who shot some video of the elk dying, says he has found over 150 dead elk. He said you could find even more dead elk if you expand your search area.

Fish and Wildlife officials stand by their survey and their management goals. Their claim is they have searched the same geographical boundaries since 1999 in counting dead elk to determine the percent of mortality each winter.

Under pressure from Orcutt and others complaining about too many elk, the department has agreed to increase slightly the number of permits issued for elk hunting.

So there you have it. He said, she said, they said, we said, everyone says. This to me epitomizes the politics of wildlife management. Maintaining a healthy population of wildlife is a science, which we know can be very black and white sometimes. I do know that in theory, you need to keep as many things consistent as possible to be able to gain the most accurate amount of data while conducting surveys each year. If you keep changing parameters, the data will be useless.

I can assume that the name calling and accusations will continue until some resolve is made in this issue. We have to look at the accuracy of the science employed and combine that with the efforts and results of the current management leaders to determine what, if any, changes need to be made.

Let’s hope for a solution that benefits all.

*Previous Posts*

Showdown in Washington

Washington’s Starving Elk in Loowit Wildlife Refuge

Washington DNR Chief Under Fire

Elk Herd Management in Washington – A Management Problem or Media Hype and Politics?

Tom Remington