December 13, 2019

Hunters blame wolves for elk herd changes

Big game hunting outfitters who take clients afield in northern Jackson Hole each fall say they see no silver bullet to reversing a long-term decline in the migratory portion of the Jackson Elk Herd.

Source: Hunters blame wolves for elk herd changes – Jackson Hole News&Guide: Environmental

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Improvements on the Way for Oregon Elk Habitat

Press Release from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

MISSOULA, Mont.—The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation awarded grants to fund 20 conservation projects that will improve more than 23,000 acres of wildlife habitat in the state of Oregon.

The grants total $279,733 and directly benefit Crook, Douglas, Grant, Harney, Jackson, Klamath, Lake, Lincoln, Linn, Tillamook, Union, Wallowa and Yamhill Counties.

“Oregon is home to some great elk country,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “This grant funding will pay for prescribed burning, aspen and meadow restoration, noxious weed treatments and other projects that will enhance habitat for elk and other wildlife.”

Allen thanked Oregon’s volunteers for carrying out banquets, membership drives and other events that raised the money for the on-the-ground projects in their own backyard.

“We see it again and again in Oregon and all around the nation. Our volunteers and members care so much and work so hard for the benefit of elk country. To them we say ‘Thank you,’” added Allen.

Here is a sampling of Oregon’s 2015 projects, listed by county:

Grant County—Treat 450 acres of weed infestations across a 13,000 acre landscape that includes crucial winter range to complement an ongoing program of spring development, forage openings, fuels reduction and wet meadow protection on private land that allows public hunting adjacent to the Bridge Creek Wildlife Management Area.

Harney County—Rehabilitate and protect a rare, large, wet meadow along Alder Creek in the Stinkingwater Mountains by constructing a series of engineered check dams and fill to stabilize and rehab the stream channel. In addition, a 110-acre exclosure will be built to keep livestock out of the meadow (also affects Grant County).

Jackson County—Apply prescribed underburning to 425 acres on the western slope of the southern Cascade Mountains in a recently commercially thinned area to jumpstart early seral recruitment in order to increase forage quality and quantity for elk on yearlong habitat and reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire on the Rogue River National Forest.

Lake County—Thin 800 acres within aspen stands in a larger project area to reduce conifers and improve habitat on elk summer range and birthing areas on the Fremont-Winema National Forest .

For a complete list of Oregon’s projects, go here.

Partners for the Oregon projects include the Fremont-Winema, Ochoco, Rogue River-Siskiyou, Siuslaw, Umatilla, Umpqua, Wallowa-Whitman and Willamette National Forests, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, private landowners and various sportsmen, wildlife, civic, tribal and government organizations.

Since 1986, RMEF and its partners completed 791 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Oregon with a combined value of more than $53.6 million. These projects have protected or enhanced 768,210 acres of habitat and have opened or secured public access to 28,463 acres.

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Buffalo Kill Elk Calf

From the video, I think it’s obvious the buffalo have no interest in harboring a fugitive (from wolves) elk. The buffalo attempt to run the elk off and the elk probably decides it will take its chances with the buffalo rather than the wolves. Intolerant buffalo gore the elk and leave it for the wolf.

However, some perverts think the buffalo killed the elk to “help” the wolf. Yeah, I think I might have noticed the buffalo huddled up discussing whether or not the wolf was getting her proper nourishment and felt sorry for the wolf. IDIOTS!

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RMEF Grants Benefit 14 States in ‘Eastern’ Elk Ranges

Press Release from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

MISSOULA, Mont.—The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation awarded almost half a million dollars in grants to 14 states in the East and Midwest that fund nearly three dozen habitat enhancement projects that will benefit not only elk, but numerous other species native to these states.

The grants, awarded in 2014, total $467,756 and directly affect about 31,000 combined acres in Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

“Thanks to this latest batch of grants, RMEF has now awarded 2014 grants to all 28 states with wild, free-ranging elk populations,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “Funding from the Torstenson Family Endowment helped pay for 17 these projects. We are also grateful to our hard-working RMEF volunteers who helped raise additional funds through membership drives, banquet activities and other events.”

Allen also thanked RMEF volunteers and members from around their country for their support of conservation.

RMEF grants fund the following 2014 projects, some of which carry over into 2015, listed by state and county:

Arkansas

Newton County—Maintain early successional vegetation on 376 acres with brush hog/fertilizer treatments to restore mixed open and woodland habitat on the Ozark National Forest.

Searcy County—Provide Torstenson Family Endowment (TFE) funding to continue work on the Buffalo National River and surrounding Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) to develop new and improve existing elk habitat with field improvements, forage plantings, noxious weed treatment and prescribed burning positively affecting 5,440 acres (also affects Newton County).

Kansas

Riley County—Seed 300 acres of wheat, 110 acres of corn and 59 acres of sunflower followed by fertilizer and herbicide treatments on existing elk forage plots on the Fort Riley Military Reservation to also benefit turkey, bobwhite quail, ring necked pheasant, whitetail deer and many non-game species (also affects Geary and Clay Counties); and use TFE funds to convert cool season grasses to more beneficial early successional plant species and aid in the control of noxious weeds with aerial herbicide application in order to benefit about 2,500 acres of grassland on Fort Riley (also affects Geary and Clay Counties).

Kentucky

Breathitt County—Improve 40 acres on the Paul van Booven WMA through invasive species control of autumn olive, establishment of mixed hard and soft wood stands, forage seeding and thinning white pine.

Michigan

Cheboygan County—Provide TFE funding to plant buckwheat and clover on 63 acres that have been cleared of brush, and hydro-ax another 62 acres to facilitate future prescribed burning on the Pigeon River State Forest to improve elk habitat.

Minnesota

Beltrami County—Brush sheer 250 acres where prescribed burning cannot be effectively used to regenerate new growth within the Grygla, Moose River and Wapiti WMAs (also affects Marshall County).

Kittson County—Implement prescribed burn operations and treat noxious weeds that threaten elk habitat on 2,000 acres in the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands (also affects Marshall, Roseau and Beltrami Counties); establish high quality forage plots on 156 acres of state and private lands to draw elk away from agricultural crops and increase acceptance of elk while also benefitting bear, deer, moose, sharp-tailed grouse and sandhill cranes (also affects Marshall County); and provide funding for treatment of buckthorn infestations and to conduct prescribed burns on 200 acres in various WMAs (also affects Marshall and Roseau Counties).

Marshall County— Conduct prescribed fire and aspen girdling and removal operations on 2,895 acres of the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge where the lack of disturbance over more than 70 years has allowed aspen and willow to encroach on historically open grasslands and oak savannah habitat.

Missouri

Carter County—Use TFE funding for fire line construction, prescribed fire, woodland thinning, cedar removal, and creation and seeding of forage openings to improve 520 acres of habitat within the core area of Missouri’s elk herd (also affects Shannon and Reynolds Counties);

Nebraska

Dawes County—Provide TFE funding to replace three non-functioning wildlife water developments on the Pine Ridge Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest that were destroyed or heavily damaged by high intensity wildfires in 2006 and 2012.

Lincoln County—Provide TFE funding to mechanically thin up to 70 acres of Eastern Red Cedar to enhance the deciduous component and open the understory to increase browse forage for elk on the Wapiti WMA.

Scotts Bluff County—Use TFE funding to install a 1,000-gallon capacity wildlife water catchment on the Montz Point State WMA benefitting elk, bighorn sheep and mule deer.

Sheridan County—Provide TFE funding to install three water catchments and a well water system to replace structures damaged by a 2012 wildfire on the Metcalf WMA.

North Carolina

Haywood County—Provide TFE funding for a series of low intensity controlled burns over a number of years –affecting 2,200 acres this time around– to restore the composition and open structure of the oak and pine woodlands within the 4,000+ acre Canadian Top project area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the Cataloochee Valley; and create 22 acres of forage openings with mechanical manipulation in the Appalachian Ranger District on the Pisgah National Forest to restore 285 acres of quality elk habitat over the next 2-3 years in four phases.

Swain County—Use TFE funding to clear, mow, seed and fertilize 11 acres to maintain forage openings on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Reserve that have demonstrated to be an important stopping points for elk to rest and feed during seasonal migrations into and out of the neighboring Great Smoky Mountains National Park (also affects Jackson, Graham and Haywood Counties).

Oklahoma

Cherokee County—Provide TFE funding to maintain 10 miles of firebreaks and road access, prepping for future prescribed burns and renovate 60 acres of forage openings encroached by larger woody species in the Cherokee WMA; and use TFE funding to prepare five miles of fireguard for future burning by pushing timber 15 feet off 3.5 miles of road used for fireguard and creating 1.5 miles of new fire line in the Cookson WMA.

Leflore County—Use TFE funding to restore 11 miles of old roads and fire lines to increase burnable acres on the Wister WMA that hasn’t seen fire in more than 15 years (also affects Latimer County).

Pushmataha County—Provide TFE funding to burn 5,000 acres of forest and use brush control on an additional 480 acres to improve abundance and quality of year-round forage for elk in the Pushmataha WMA.

Pennsylvania

Cameron County—Continue 20+ years of work on the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Northcentral Region by applying appropriate treatments of herbicide, lime, seed and fertilizer to maintain 2,050 acres of existing herbaceous openings to enhance elk habitat (also affects Elk, Clearfield, Clinton and Centre Counties).

McKean County—Plant new clovers on 16 acres of reclaimed surface mines on State Game Lands #311 with high alkaline soil amendments to improve elk viewing and hunting opportunities.

Tennessee

Morgan County—Provide funding for a project to investigate the effectiveness of prescribed fire with and without selective herbicides in converting understory canopy to early succession and enhancing forage availability and quality for elk and other wildlife on 340 acres in the Cumberland Mountains (also affects Anderson and Scott Counties).

Campbell County—Brush hog, fertilize and drill seed 83 acres to provide high quality forage on soils that have been strip-mined for coal on the only elk viewing area in the state in the North Cumberland WMA; and provide TFE funding to create and enhance 42 acres of foraging habitat on Gunsight Mountain and in Bear Wallow Hollow of the North Cumberland WMA for Tennessee’s growing elk herd through mechanical clearing and seeding, reducing elk pressure on adjacent private lands.

Virginia

Wise County—Clear non-native invasive autumn olive and other woody shrub species from 28 acres of existing forest openings adjacent to the North Fork of Pound Reservoir on the Jefferson National Forest to improve forage conditions for elk coming over the ridge of Pine Mountain from Kentucky while also improving trail access to the Laurel Fork primitive campground, perhaps providing visitors with an opportunity to view elk and other wildlife.

Buchanan County—Provide TFE funding to create and enhance natural and man-made habitat on 160 acres in Virginia’s Elk Restoration Zone to encourage elk to use this designated area and provide the forage and water needed for the herd to grow to a sustainable population.

West Virginia

McDowell County—Provide TFE funding to clear and seed 10 acres, apply border edge cuts to 12 additional acres and create two water hole developments to improve forage conditions on the Panther WMA within West Virginia’s Elk Management Zone.

Wisconsin

Ashland County—Maintain spring and summer forage sites and accelerate restoration of aspen habitat on 318 acres on the Chequamegon National Forest within the Clam Lake Elk Range via mowing, hand clearing and prescribed fire.

Jackson County—Improve early successional grassland habitat by treating and then seeding 30 acres adjacent to potential release sites for the Black River elk reintroduction thus maintaining high quality habitat near the core of the Black River elk herd range.

Sawyer County—Enhance 450 acres through a variety of treatments including prescribed fire, mowing, fertilizing and planting on the Flambeau River State Forest, the Sawyer County Forest and Kimberly Clark Wildlife Area within the Clam Lake elk herd range (also affects Price County).

Conservation projects are selected for grants using science-based criteria and a committee of RMEF volunteers and staff along with representatives from partnering agencies and universities.

Partners for the projects include state and federal agencies, tribal organizations, conservation groups, businesses, private landowners, universities and other organizations.

RMEF uses TFE funding solely to further its core mission programs of permanent land protection, habitat stewardship, elk restoration and hunting heritage.

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For Whom the Toll Taking Tolls

ElkHerdI’m sure some will consider this short piece being a bit picky but consider, if you would or should or can, that the choice of words in any document can certainly contribute to the propagandizing of the public and their ideas about certain things. For that reason alone, it must needs to offer a better explanation of choice words. (Yes, I do it too!)

In question is an article about Yellowstone National Park wolves and the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd. Think what you will about the accuracy of the reporting overall. Frankly, I don’t care as few know the difference, nor do they care. In addition, more than likely anything I write here will do nothing to mitigate the years of biased and ignorant reporting on wolf and elk issues.

In addition, I do not know the writer in question. I know nothing about him. I don’t know how he feels about wolves, elk, hunting, Yellowstone or the price of peanuts. Perhaps his intent was to help form more negative opinions about hunters and hunting. Or maybe it was just a careless choice of words. I’ll let you decide.

The writer of the article states the following: “Also taking a toll on the herd have been hunters, other predators and harsh winters.”(emphasis added)

The report is about what appears to be an increase in the population of elk in the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd. There is even an intimation that the elk numbers went up because the wolf numbers went down. God forbid such a connection be made!

But let me focus, nitpickingly, on the use of the writer’s words “And also taking a toll….” In having a basic understanding of the English language, and I think I do, I know from reading the article that the writer must believe that wolves are “taking a toll” because he claims there are “also” others “taking a toll.” I suppose that’s progress to see and admit that?

But he names others “taking a toll” as being hunters, other predators and harsh winters.

Taking a toll can be defined in a dictionary as, “An amount or extent of loss or destruction, as of life, health, or property.” In perhaps 100% of the context in which the term “taking a toll” would be used would be in helping to describe the “extent of loss or destruction.” To those who might not suspect, this is NOT a good thing. The writer evidently can see that the reduction of elk in the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd from 20,000 to under 3,000, is an event that can be described as something “taking a toll.” More progress?

However, I would like to take a bit of an issue with the description that hunters are or have been “taking a toll” on the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd. Regulated hunting, generally speaking, does not “take a toll” on any game or wildlife population. Unless you plain hate hunting and hunters and then nothing would matter anyway to them. If poor management of elk and elk hunting caused the “taking a toll” on the elk, then those wildlife managers need to find a new job; maybe predicting more global warming would suit them. They seem to be well versed in how to use it as an excuse for everything.

Game managers today, employ methods where they can grow, reduce or maintain an existing population of animals, such as elk – well, that is providing there are any elk leftover after the wolves are done killing them all. This management plan has been visible since the illegal introduction of the gray wolf in 1995 and 1996, because of a continued reduction in hunting permits in those areas where wolves are present in too large numbers.

Hunters aren’t “taking a toll” on elk numbers because they are the ones being asked to make all the sacrifices while some play gOD with elk and wolves and others make statements in media outlets pointing a wrongful finger at hunters for “taking a toll.” No, wolves are taking a toll on hunting! Tough pill to swallow for some I know.

It’s pointless to discuss the ins and outs of whether “other predators” and “harsh winters,” along with those poor wolves, are what’s causing the Northern Yellowstone Elk Herd to disappear. Wolves, lions, bears and all “other predators” aren’t regulated. They don’t have to cough up money or enter a lottery to get a permit to kill an elk. They just kill one anytime the urge strikes; and sometimes, just for the hell of it.

If there’s any toll taking that concerns hunters, it is that some writers, due to their unthoughtful, or not, choice of words, are taking a toll on us poor hunters. Time to give it rest. You got your damned wolves. Now, go way!

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Neighbors Work for Hours to Save Elk That Had Fallen Through Ice

“They told the farmers that they had called Fish and Game, but had been informed that nature was taking its course and that there was nothing they could do to help.

“Iverson and neighbors John and Bill Lefebvre decided that they couldn’t stand by while the young elk struggled in the freezing water, so they decided that they would head up to the scene to see what they could do.”<<<Read More>>>

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Whitetail-Style Rattling Works on Elk, Too

Press Release from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

MISSOULA, Mont.- Whitetail hunters for decades have employed rattling as an effective hunt strategy during the rut. Now more and more elk hunters are catching on.

Two notable hunting writers have covered rattling in recent issues of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s member magazine, “Bugle.” Both found success using slightly different methods and gear. Here’s a rundown:
ElkSparring

Ralph Ramos

1. Antler Preference – Ramos uses one large, 320-class, 6×6 shed as a base antler. During the rattling sequence, this antler mostly lays on the ground while the hunter swings a second antler, usually a broken end with at least three points.

2. Rattling Sequence – Bang the antlers abruptly and aggressively 6-7 times to create the thundering sound of two bulls squaring off. Ramos says real bulls often begin a fight with big theatrics that devolve into a pushing match. So after your initial start, continue by rubbing antlers together, clashing points, raking trees and brush and pounding the ground for at least 10-15 minutes. Lots of noise is realistic. During this sequence, bang the antlers together very forcefully a couple times every 2-3 minutes. Then, after a few minutes of silence, start all over again with round two, and then round three.

3. Calling – Ramos blends a variety of elk calls into the rattling session. Bugles, moans, groans and excited cow calls add realism to the sounds of a fight. If possible, let a second hunter focus on the calling while the first hunter focuses on the rattling.

4. Be Sure to Try – Switching off. Ramos says this hunting method takes a physical toll on a hunter’s upper body so it’s good to let two hunters split the rattling and calling duties.

5. Notes – Bulls generally bugle as they approach, but not always. Sometimes they slip in silently, as if trying to steal a hot cow away from the battling bulls. Stay alert! To watch a video of Ramos’ rattling technique, go here

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrhrbNl9KpQ).

Mark Kayser

1. Antler Preference – Kayser prefers a set of raghorn sheds, to save weight. A hunter can lighten his load even more by not using antlers at all. Consider commercial products that mimic rattling sounds, like the Rattlecage (http://rattlecage.com).

2. Rattling Sequence – See No. 2 above.

3. Calling – Use a series of high-intensity bugles with two different tones to imitate two different bulls. For example, make one a growler and the other a chuckler. Be creative in your own style.

4. Be Sure to Try – If you don’t carry actual antlers, you can use a large stick to scrape trees and ground, adding even more realism to the rattling sounds.

5. Notes – Kayser used rattling to draw a bull from a neighboring property. It took only a few minutes for an elk to respond to the sounds, cross a fence and walk within bow range.

“Bugle” magazine is a bi-monthly publication that covers hunting, conservation, elk ecology, predator issues, RMEF membership news and much more, plus memorable hunting stories and outstanding photography. Visit www.rmef.org for details.

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Pennsylvania Elk Country, Hunting Heritage Get Upgrade from RMEF Grants

Press Release from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

MISSOULA, Mont.—The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation awarded $148,800 in grants to acquire and enhance elk habitat in Pennsylvania as well as help fund more than 20 youth hunting heritage and other projects around the state.

The grants directly affect Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Bradford, Bucks, Cameron, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Dauphin, Elk, Fayette, Franklin, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Lancaster, Lycoming, Perry, Philadelphia, Potter, Sullivan, Tioga, Washington and Westmoreland Counties. Three other projects have statewide benefits.

“We have a long history in the state of Pennsylvania and this latest round of grants demonstrates our continued commitment to improving elk country there,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “A good chunk of the funding went toward the purchase of prime elk country in Elk County’s Benezette Township which is now protected and open for the public to enjoy.”

RMEF has approximately 11,000 members in Pennsylvania. Allen thanked them and the local volunteers who raised the grant funding at banquets, through membership drives and other events. He also thanked volunteers and members around the nation for their dedication to conservation, elk and elk country.

The grants will help fund the following projects, listed by county:

Armstrong County—Provide funding for parents and boys and girls in grades K-12 attending the Armstrong County Sportsmen and Conservation League Youth Field Day where they learn about water safety presented by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission plus other outdoor skills such as fishing, archery, trapping, wildlife identification and calling, compass reading, and shooting muzzleloaders, shotguns and .22 rifles.

Beaver County—Provide funding to purchase equipment and supplies to add muzzleloader as a club and youth field day activity for Aliquippa Bucktails Young Bucks Youth Club participants.

Bedford County—Provide funding for the Bedford County Sportsmen Club’s Youth Pheasant Hunt for youth ages 12-16; provide funding to help purchase ammunition for the Everett Sportsmen Junior Rifle Club which serves 64 members, many of which move on to shoot at the collegiate level; and provide funding to help offset the cost of ammunition for the Everett High School Rifle Team.

Cameron County—Continue long-time habitat enhancement work with herbicide, lime, seed and fertilizer treatments on 2,050 acres of herbaceous openings in the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Northcentral Region (also affects Elk, Clearfield, Clinton and Centre Counties).

Dauphin County—Provide sponsorship funding and volunteer support for the Capital Area Sportsmen Youth Field Day in Harrisburg where more than 300 youth participated in archery, fishing, shooting, fly tying, boating safety, canoeing, a Cherokee Run obstacle course and other activities.

Elk County—Provide funding for disking, fertilization and the planting of clover and desired grasses and natural forbs on 16 acres of reclaimed surface mines at State Game Lands #311 to benefit elk, elk viewing and hunting in an area visited by more than 100,000 people annually; provide $100,000 of Torstenson Family Endowment (TFE) funding to acquire and open 81 acres of prime elk habitat in Benezette Township to the public which also includes parking areas and walking trails to enhance elk viewing; provide funding for the Elk County Sportsmen for Youth 2014 Field Day where youth ages 10-14 participate in eight different hands-on events dealing with hunting, fishing, trapping and conservation.

Fayette County—Assist the Fayette County Sportsmen’s League in providing six months of weekly training for youth in preparation for the regional and statewide Pennsylvania Youth Hunter Education Challenge competitions.

Fulton County—Provide volunteer manpower and funding for the Fulton County Sportsmen for Youth Field Day at Camp Sinoquipe near Ft. Littleton where boys and girls ages 10-15 take part in outdoor-related activities ranging from small bore and black powder rifle shooting, clay bird shooting and archery, to trout fishing, fly tying, waterfowl retrieval, wild turkey hunting tips and hunter safety, furbearer trapping, ATV safety and wildlife education (also affects Franklin, Huntingdon and Perry Counties).

Greene County—Provide co-sponsorship and volunteer manpower for Hunting Hills Youth Day which introduces boys and girls from across the Tri-state region to bird dogs, shotgun shooting, rifle shooting, muzzleloader shooting, archery, nature walks, history of firearms, fishing, turkey calling and gun safety; and provide funding for the Hunting Hill Hawkeyes, Greene County’s Scholastic Clay Target Program team, in order to promote the program’s mission and teach young people the fundamentals of gun safety and the value of wildlife conservation.

Lycoming County— Provide funding and volunteer support for the Consolidated Sportsmen of Muncy Creeks Fishing Derby for boys and girls ages 12 and under to get out and fish (also affects Sullivan County).

Philadelphia County—Offer funding for the Pennsylvania Master Naturalist Program which trains a corps of citizen volunteers who provide education, outreach and stewardship toward the conservation of natural resources within their communities by providing service to local organizations through projects such as invasive species removal, habitat restoration, citizen science, educational materials development, public presentations and educational program support. Since 2010, volunteers engaged in 3,880 hours of conservation outreach and stewardship, contributed more than $84,000 in conservation value and impact to more than 65 partners in southeastern Pennsylvania, reached more than 6,017 people through outreach and education, improved 257 acres of habitat through stewardship service, and completed 1,281 hours of continuing education in natural sciences (also affects Bucks, Chester and Lancaster Counties).

Sullivan County—Provide funding for a day of hands-on instruction about Pennsylvania’s elk herd, shooting, archery, Native American culture, water conservation, and wildlife identification through tracks, scats and skulls for sixth grade students in East Lycoming and Sullivan County School Districts. Sponsorship of the program began in 1993 (also affects Lycoming County).

Tioga County—Provide funding for more than 100 boys and girls and their parents to learn about shooting and safety, wildlife identification, orienteering, fishing and turkey calling at the Tioga County Sportsmen for Youth Field Day (also affects Bradford and Potter Counties).

Washington County—Provide co-sponsorship and volunteer support for the Roscoe Sportsmen’s Association Youth Day where boys and girls ages eight to 16 receive hands-on outdoor skills experience in fly tying, turkey calling, firearms safety, wildlife conservation, ethics and sportsmanship as well as archery, trap, muzzleloader, pistol and rifle shooting (also affects Fayette County); provide volunteer manpower plus funding to cover the cost of materials and supplies for the 12-week Roscoe Sportsmen’s Association Junior Trap League; help offset practice fee and travel costs for members of the California Hill Gun Club competing in the state Scholastic Clay Target Program; and provide funding for the California University of Pennsylvania Sport Shooting Association which provides a setting for Cal U students to learn proper gun safety, continue to practice and compete in pistol, rifle, and shotgun disciplines while at college, and introduce first-time participants to the shooting sports.

Westmoreland County—Provide funding for a guided hunt for first-time hunters in order to engage youth in the excitement of pheasant hunting at the Kingston Veterans and Sportsmen Club Mentored Youth Pheasant Hunt.

Statewide—Provide funding for the Wildlife Leadership Academy (WLA) which empowers high school students from across the state to become ambassadors for wildlife conservation in order to ensure a sustained wildlife legacy for future generations. The WLA begins with rigorous five-day summer field schools that focus on wildlife biology, conservation, leadership skills and teamwork development lead by wildlife biologists, media professionals and educators. Over the last seven years, the program assisted more than 150 students who conducted 745 outreach projects, engaging in more than 3,300 contact hours with the public and reached an audience of greater than 15,000 people across the state; provide funding for the Wildlife Society Northeast Student Conclave which brings students in majors related to wildlife and natural resource conservation together with professionals in the field to gain hands-on experience as they learn skills through workshops and compete in an intercollegiate quiz bowl; and assist with the cost of awards given to shooters at the Scholastic Clay Target Program state competition and various regional competitions.

TFE funding is only used to further RMEF’s core mission programs of permanent land protection, habitat stewardship, elk restoration and hunting heritage. RMEF volunteers and staff along with representatives from partnering agencies and universities use science-based criteria to select conservation projects for grant funding.

RMEF volunteers and staff select hunting heritage projects to receive funding.

Partners for the Pennsylvania projects include the Pennsylvania Game Commission and various business, university, sportsmen, wildlife and civic organizations.

Since 1985, RMEF and its partners completed 341 different conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Pennsylvania with a combined value of more than $22.8 million. RMEF also made ten land acquisition purchases that opened or secured public access to 8,546 acres of Pennsylvania elk country.

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RMEF Grants Enhance Minnesota’s Hunting Heritage, Elk Habitat

MISSOULA, Mont.—The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation awarded grants to improve elk forage and assist with various projects to help ensure the future of Minnesota’s hunting traditions.

The grants total $43,770 and directly benefit Beltrami, Kittson, Marshall and Roseau Counties. Seven other projects have statewide benefits.

“Minnesota has some of the most dedicated sportsmen and women in the country,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “This funding helps promote hunting and outdoor traditions for youth and adults at a variety of activities. It also helps pay for prescribed burning, noxious weed treatments and other needed habitat enhancement projects that improve native grasses and forbs for elk and other wildlife.”

Allen thanked RMEF volunteers in Minnesota who carried out fundraising projects at their banquets, through membership drives and other events to generate the funding. He also thanked volunteers and members around the nation for their dedication to conservation.

“Our volunteers make all the difference for the RMEF. We thank them so much for their passion and dedication to elk and elk country,” added Allen.

RMEF grants will help fund the following projects, listed by county:

Beltrami County—Apply brush-shearing operations to trigger new forage growth on 250 acres of habitat for elk and other wildlife within the Grygla, Moose River and Wapiti Wildlife Management Areas (also affects Marshall County); and provide sponsorship of the 12th Annual Minnesota Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener designed to honor the state’s deer hunting tradition, educate youth and promote ethical hunting practices.

Kittson County—Provide funding for Student Conservation Association interns to assist with implementing prescribed burn operations and noxious weed treatments to enhance elk habitat on 2,000 acres of the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands (also affects Marshall, Roseau and Beltrami Counties); and establish high quality forage plots on state (Karlstad Wildlife Management Area) and private lands to draw elk away from agricultural crops and increase their acceptance. Bear, deer, moose, sharp-tailed grouse and sandhill cranes also benefit.

Marshall County—Implement prescribed fire, aspen girdling and removal operations on 2,895 acres of the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge where lack of disturbance for more than 70 years allowed aspen and willow to encroach on historically open grasslands and oak savannah habitat.

Statewide—Provide funding to help cover the costs for the Minnesota Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus, a meeting that offers sportsmen groups an opportunity to interface with legislators and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to make their views and positions known; provide funding to make scholarships available for participants in Minnesota’s Youth Hunting Camps where boys and girls age 12-16 receive instruction in archery and the use of shotguns, rifles and pistols, as well as learning to track, dog handle, identify various types of cover and vegetation and more; provide funding to assist with publication of the Women Hunting and Fishing in All Seasons newsletters that include information on the organization, articles with hunting and gear tips, resources to aid beginner hunters and anglers, and a schedule of women’s events for Minnesota’s sporting community, as well as pages devoted to information from supporting partners including RMEF; provide funding to underwrite National Archery in the Schools Program archery kit grants to schools across Minnesota; provide funding for two Women Hunting and Fishing in All Seasons activities—the first offers shooting and fishing opportunities while the second is a brainstorming session on how to best serve the needs of Minnesota’s sporting women and potential female hunters and anglers; provide sponsorship funding and volunteer manpower for an RMEF SAFE event at the Minnesota 2014 Game Fair; and provide sponsorship of numerous DNR Becoming an Outdoors Woman and Family Outreach Programs which provides women and families with an opportunity to learn skills related to hunting, fishing, and the outdoors.

Conservation projects are selected for grants using science-based criteria and a committee of RMEF volunteers and staff along with representatives from partnering agencies and universities. RMEF volunteers and staff select hunting heritage projects to receive funding.

Partners for the Minnesota projects include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, private landowners, and various sportsmen, wildlife and civic organizations.

Since 1985, RMEF and its partners completed 149 different conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Minnesota with a combined value of more than $2.3 million.

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Outdoorsman History – the Real Reasons State F&G Management Was, and Still Is, Failing – Part I

*Editor’s Note* The below article was first published in The Outdoorsman, Bulletin 55, Jan-Mar 2014. It is republished on this website with permission from the author. This is Part I of a three-part series. Part II will be republished soon.

By George Dovel:

The first time I worked with Idaho Fish and Game employees was when Idaho’s Aeronautics Director Chet Moulton called one afternoon and asked if I would fly my helicopter to the Owyhee County Court House at Murphy and fly two game wardens as close as I could land to an airplane crash site in the snow-covered Owyhee Mountains.

According to Moulton, the sole occupant of the Piper Tri-Pacer was flying on instruments after midnight on a flight plan from Nevada to Boise. To prevent a landing with limited equipment at Boise’s Gowen Field, the pilot turned right and headed for Mountain Home Air Base which was equipped for a GCA (Ground Controlled Approach).

After making the turn, the pilot flew into a rock face above the 8,000 foot level on War Eagle Mountain. Once the snow-covered wreck was located by a jet pilot, Moulton flew over the crash site and determined no one could have survived the impact.

The pilot’s family insisted Moulton organize a rescue team in case the pilot was still alive, but Moulton declined because of extreme weather and the probability that it would take several hours to extricate the pilot’s corpse from the tangled metal tubing in the wreckage. The younger game warden urged me to take them to the site anyway and said we would be back at the Murphy airstrip in an hour with the pilot’s body.

But the experienced game warden agreed with me that it made no sense to risk spending the night on a rocky cliff with storms that would make it difficult – if not impossible – to maintain minimum engine temperature for starting, while protecting the copter from snow and ice buildups. It took several hours the next day to extricate the pilot’s remains from the wreckage and when Moulton unzipped the body bag at Murphy the critics were silent.

Conflict between Game Managers and Biologists

My respect for the complex tasks performed by game wardens soon helped me to understand the conflict between experienced game wardens, and the inexperienced biologists who relied on theories they had been taught – rather than on facts learned from experience.

Although the game wardens endorsed my helicopter flying and I had plenty of other customers, the only times IDFG called on me were when my competitor couldn’t perform the task. For example, I was in Wyoming winding up a USGS survey when I received a message from IDFG asking if I could stop on the way back to Boise and herd some antelope into a trap.

When I arrived above the 8,000 foot level beside the Lost River Range, I was told these were the highest altitude antelope in Idaho. Later that day I learned that my local competitor had not been able to herd any antelope, and when he brought in a pilot from Wyoming to fly his helicopter, the pilot wrecked it trying to outmaneuver them.

In addition to gathering wild horses for Idaho ranchers for several winters after the BLM ordered them removed from federal land, I had learned how to herd antelope in Wyoming. Antelope can easily be teased into racing a helicopter, but as with any other herd of wild animals, it is necessary to establish herd control in order to make an escape later less likely.

Despite the intricate low-level flying at altitudes exceeding the helicopter’s ability to hover without a ground cushion of air, the biologist in charge insisted I carry a passenger. When I approached a large herd of antelope, they typically spread out in front of me, with a doe positioned on each end ready to run in opposite directions.

As I Was Establishing Control of the Herd My F&G Passenger Pulled out a Pistol and Shot an Antelope
The doe to my left began to lead the bunch that way and I quickly cut them off and just as quickly headed for the doe on the right who was now leading the herd in a new direction. As I halted that escape, my passenger suddenly pulled out a pistol and fired several bullets into her.

I told him he could either get out of the helicopter and walk back or sit quietly and leave his weapon in its holster. Once I gained control of the herd, I got them into the wings and several concealed F&G employees followed my previous instructions to help crowd them into the trap.

But as I was shutting down and securing the helicopter, the employees entered the trap and lined up on one side forcing the terrified antelope to repeatedly jump against the opposite side of the trap. They later explained they were trying to entangle the antelope in the trap netting so they could grab and restrain them. But for every antelope that became entangled in the taught netting, at least two more were on the ground with the telltale crook in their neck caused by lethal injury when they hit the net with their frenzied jumping.

Every winter I spent some spare time traveling with a well-known Idaho veterinarian who also treated captive wildlife, including those at the Boise Zoo. It was obvious this F&G crew did not know how to handle trapped antelope to minimize death losses.

I discussed the issue with the biologists and explained that it was much simpler and less harmful to let the animals settle down first instead of increasing their stress, and then use small “capture” nets to partition or immobilize them for handling and testing. My vet friend sometimes roped individual deer for treatment or testing at the zoo, but I would not suggest this except to a proficient roper.

IDFG Opposed Hiring Vet for 30 More Years

The biologists seemed more interested in hiding the dead and injured antelope from the public than testing more animals, and told me they had trapped plenty of antelope in my single run. I was happy to leave this destruction and I began to suggest to several legislators that an experienced veterinarian be added to the F&G payroll.

But there was strong opposition from IDFG to including a professional, trained in prevention of disease, to its “management.” Then as now, IDFG’s ability to convince most urban legislators of their alleged expertise was combined with giving favors to knowledgeable legislators who did not oppose the Department’s no-Vet agenda for another 30 years.

FWS Experiment Finds Pilot Makes a Difference

When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hired me and a well-known helicopter flying service from Missoula to make a duplicate count of spawning steelhead and their redds (spawning beds) in north central Idaho, it proved something I already knew. One of two experienced observers flew with one pilot and then the other team flew and counted the same stretch of water. But even when we switched observers and which ship flew first, the one flying with me counted a few more fish and redds on each stretch.

The other pilot was a highly experienced mountain helicopter pilot who had my respect, but I had grown up interested in the wildlife I saw daily – whether I was hunting, fishing or trapping, or just looking for critters as I traveled or rested. Later as a pilot, I became accustomed to adjusting my altitude, airspeed, flight pattern and angle to be sure my passenger had the chance to see what I saw.

My Aerial Tracking Experience Pays Off

One early spring I was called to pick up an outfitter who was severely injured in a horse accident in rugged terrain in Wyoming’s Teton Wilderness. After he was safely in the hospital undergoing emergency surgery, I called my wife to tell her I’d be home the following day.

She told me the Deadwood Reservoir dam tender’s wife had started driving in from Boise via Scott Mountain Road after being told it was open, but had never arrived. Her vehicle was found on the road in deep snow before she even reached the Scott Mountain Ridge, and airplane and helicopter searchers had been unable to locate her tracks for two days and nights due to rain and additional snowfall.
I told my wife I’d be home that night and expected to find the missing person just after daylight the next morning. I flew over her vehicle at daylight and located and followed her vague ski trail via the occasional indentation or track protected by overhangs.

I saw where she had lost a ski on the Deadwood side of Scott Mountain and she had made the mistake of following it downhill on the steep mountain side. She knew not to drop into the impassable jungle that is the Deadwood River there, and had waited as airplanes and helicopters flew over her – but failed to see her in plain sight because they weren’t looking in the right place.

Less than 10 minutes after I flew over her vehicle, she was bundled in my helicopter, consuming warm food and liquid. A few minutes later we landed at the FS search headquarters at the Garden Valley airstrip for a medical check-up but they insisted, over her objections, that I fly her on to Boise for testing and observation at the hospital.

I’ve mentioned these incidents in an effort to help readers understand that regardless of a pilot’s hours and flying skill, only a small number of pilots are qualified to count or herd game animals, or know what to look for in difficult aerial searches. I knew that a back country woman in her 50s, driving alone on an un-traveled dirt road that could quickly become impassable to her vehicle, would probably carry emergency snow shoes or a pair of trail skis, and clothing for emergency survival.

Passengers Should Never Tell a Pilot How Heavy to Load the Aircraft or How to Fly

When I commented on the high altitude antelope trapping biologist’s insistence on my carrying a passenger, which interfered with the Bell 47G-2 operation at that altitude, I did not explain why I did not balk at carrying the extra weight. It was partly because a person familiar with the animals’ usual location and movements might save time and needless searching.

Also, I had logged a thousand take-offs and landings at or above 10,000 feet with a USGS survey crew using tellurometers to measure distances between mountain peaks in Wyoming. So over-revving the engine for 1-3 seconds or “milking” the pitch control to recover the rpm lost maneuvering in thinner air had become second nature.

Game Census Flights are Not Sightseeing Trips

An IDFG employee who had flown with me in a helicopter called and arranged for me to fly him on a “green-up” deer census in an airplane. The area was steep but generally lacked a dense tree canopy and I told him I would prefer to use a 1955 Cessna 180 which provided good front seat viewing and extra power and speed, rather than the Piper Super Cub I would normally have used.

But when I arrived at the airport to pick him up, he was accompanied by two biologists who he insisted would also fly as observers. I told him their added weight would handicap our ability to fly close enough and slow enough to accurately identify juveniles, but he began teasing me and said I could adjust my flight pattern to compensate.

It was a typically calm morning with only a handful of high scattered clouds and I was flying the grid patterns and leaving extra room to clear the saddles. But as I approached the next saddle from above, I suddenly encountered turbulence and a severe downdraft where neither would normally have existed without wind.

Instantly I recognized the mountain wave and tumbling air currents that were pulling us toward the ground but we were already out of other options. As the stall warning horn came on, I extended the flaps ten degrees which allowed us to squeak through the pass just above the treetops and cross the saddle.

I increased the vertical distance from obstructions which left us too high to easily differentiate between the fawns and adults, and we mutually agreed to end the flight prematurely rather than record inaccurate information. Yet one of my passengers reportedly later blamed my alleged lack of fixed-wing experience for my inability to keep them in position for an accurate youth-to-adult ratio count.

Mountain Waves Are One of Several Flight Hazards Most Biologists Know Nothing About

I doubt that most readers, including biologists who choose to fly game counts when conditions are less than ideal, have even heard of the natural phenomenon called “mountain wave”, although it is fairly common from late fall through spring – especially in Western States with prominent mountain ranges. Light plane pilots may experience the inability to climb over long distances, but unless they see and recognize the telltale lenticular (lens-shaped) clouds, they may not realize what is causing it.

Although I often saw lenticulars near the Owyhee Mountains south of Boise, my first episode in the U.S. happened when I was ferrying a helicopter to California from our repair facility at Boise. I checked with weather when I refueled at Reno, and the forecast for crossing Donner Summit at my altitude was clear with light winds.

But shortly after take-off as I was climbing to 8,000 feet to clear the 7,100 foot summit, Reno Weather broadcast a Pilot Report of severe turbulence from a jet pilot at 18,000 feet on the California side. I altered my course and climbed to 12,000 feet but after I crossed the summit I began to experience a severe downdraft that I couldn’t out-fly despite my light gross weight.
Continuing my attempt to climb, I headed for the closest open ground toward the ocean and finally stopped my uncontrolled descent at 3,000 feet above sea level.

The violent clear air turbulence that injured five United flight attendants in January 2014, and a separate incident that injured three United crew members and threw passengers against the ceiling in February, do not exist in some “waves” that still create long distance downdrafts.

The Facts about “Sightability” Counts of Big Game

I flew most of my big game counts north of the 40th parallel in Idaho and Wyoming and several in portions of Montana, Nevada and Utah. In most winters, there were one or several significant winter snowstorms where most of the deer and elk were brushed up during the storm, but then emerged in the warm sunshine and new snow to forage when the storm ended.

As a small group of mule deer travel through the new snow foraging, and then leave 17 bed depressions where they rest and ruminate (chew their cud), the pilot and observer expect to count 17 deer even before they see them. Under these ideal count conditions, it is possible for a trained observer to count deer and elk on most limited winter ranges with a very high degree of accuracy.

Unit33

When IDFG flew the Unit 33 big game census in Jan-Feb of 1994, 97% of the live deer and elk were found in the handful of high-density subunits along the South Fork of the Payette River. There were no tracks in the fresh snow in the 5-25 foot depths above the river– and thus no live animals to count.

In 1974, New Zealand biologist Graeme Caughley insisted biologists needed a “sightabilty model” to make up for the game they failed to see when conducting aerial surveys. Since then, biologists and statisticians have been inventing and constantly re-designing sightability models that often magnify the errors rather than eliminate them.

The July 1987 issue of the Journal of Wildlife Management published a study titled, “Visibility Bias During Aerial Surveys of Elk in Northcentral Idaho,” led by U of I Statistician “Oz” Garton. The study used the percent of radio-collared elk not seen during aerial surveys to estimate what percent of the total elk were not seen.

But Garton and his graduate student brazenly ignored 30 years of research by more than a dozen lead biologists. All of those researchers had concluded that lack of snow cover, search rate, animal behavior, and different observers were the primary causes of failure to observe a high percentage of known elk.

Instead, Garton’s graduate student wrote, and The Wildlife Society accepted and published the following Conclusion: (emphasis added)

“Multivariate* analysis indicated that visibility was significantly influenced by group size and vegetation cover. Snow cover, search rate, animal behavior, and different observers did not significantly affect visibility of elk. A sightability model was developed to predict the probability of observing elk groups during winter aerial counts.” (*a number of independent mathematical variables used in statistical analysis)

Aerial Survey Contradicts Statistician’s Conclusion

Yet I was hired to fly three long-time IDFG employees in a deer and incidental elk survey in Unit 32 that came up with a very different conclusion. Each of us was given a digital counter and asked to press once for each animal we observed – no more and no less.

BigDesertCountry

As in the big desert country in SE Idaho, locating most of the deer and elk following a winter storm in Unit 32 is easy.

I was careful to let observers on both sides of the Cessna get a view of each deer and any elk that we observed, and I sought out older males – especially in brush or timber – that are not as prone to move when an aircraft first flies in their vicinity. The totals recorded by a game warden observer were identical to mine but the totals from the other two were very different.

Both were biologists but the first one recorded only two-thirds as many total animals as I had and the second recorded nearly twice as many as I had. Obviously neither had the ability to spot and count game animals.

Given ample time, most observers can spot running animals, but the vast majority of observers I have flown and some hunters I have guided, cannot see standing deer or elk in timber or brush – even when there is nothing but air between them and the animal. Yet those same people keep re-designing sightability models which they claim will correct the vastly different numbers the two biologists recorded in Unit 32.

Always Wait for Ideal Count Conditions

IDFG biologists and their career statistician from the University of Idaho claim they only see an average of 40-50% of the animals that exist under count conditions ranging from ideal to very poor. Why waste thousands of dollars trying to count under less than ideal conditions, and/or in mild winters when the animals are not concentrated in a few high-density subunits?

They normally count only a small number of high density subunits in a very small percentage of the total units once every 3-5 years. So waiting even a couple of years for ideal winter count conditions would keep Garton and his crew of biologists from constantly re-designing a sightability model that has never provided accuracy.

Because it is usually not possible to get an accurate ground count unless the animals are fenced, with many observers walking 15 or so feet apart, I learned that flying a handful of subunits either slower or twice under ideal count conditions as Alaska does, provides a reliable sightability correction when deemed necessary. I used a still camera or a self-leveling 8mm video camera to get better accuracy with good success on large herds to prevent undue stress.

Why Fly a Survey and Ignore the Results?

Although I am a strong advocate of accurate game counts, they are an obscene waste of time and money if the information is not used properly to correct deficiencies promptly. The deliberate destruction of Idaho’s Lolo Zone elk herd, beginning in 1985, provides a classic example of the fanatical “Do Nothing – Have Nothing” philosophy that replaced wild game management.

Following the statewide 10-year program including multiple bear harvests implemented by IDFG Director Joe Greenley in the 1970s, in a program lasting until 1985, biologists in Units 10 and 12 (the Lolo Zone) reported an elk population of 20,115. This allowed an annual harvest of 1430 elk and created an annual surplus of 805 elk.

The 1985 wolf prey research by Kaminski and Hansen calculated that the sustained 805 elk surplus would support 45 wolves at a maximum consumption of nearly 18 deer or elk each per year. But by 1989, F&G had increased the annual Lolo Zone elk harvest by 38% and eliminated bear control resulting in a decline of 24% in the Lolo elk population to 15,270 (see 25-year Lolo population chart).

[table caption=”25-Year 89% Destruction of Lolo Elk Herd” width=”500″ colwidth=”20|100|50″ colalign=”left|left|center|left|right”]
1985,1989,1992,1994(95),1997(98),2002(03),2006,2010
20115,15270,13044,11197,7746,4691,5110,2178
+805,-4845,-8919,-7071,-12369,-15424,-15005,-17937
[/table]
(Unit 10 and Unit 12 elk counted in separate years in 1994-2003)
Row One shows Lolo Zone total elk population
Row Two shows change from 805 surplus to 17,937 deficit

This meant the Lolo Zone could no longer support any wolves on a sustained basis – even if all hunter harvest was eliminated. But there were only 881 yearling bulls in the 1988-89 winter count to replace the 1,819 bulls that were subsequently killed during the 1989 hunting season, so the bull harvest should have been cut by more than half – but wasn’t (see Lolo Zone Elk Harvests below).

[table caption=”Selected Lolo Zone Elk Harvest” width=”500″ colwidth=”20|100|50″ colalign=”left|left|center|left|right”]
Elk Sex,1985,1989,1990,1992,1995,1996,1997,1998,2010
Female,—-,156,—-,200,168,638,277,7,0
Antlered,—-,1819,—-,1447,1759,599,316,187,124
Total Harvest,1430,1975,1764,1647,1927,1237,593,194,124
[/table]

Even if IDFG had cut the 1989 bull harvest in half, there were not enough elk to feed bears and other predators without reducing their population. Reducing predators to restore a healthy balance and shortening hunting seasons created the elk abundance in the early 1900s and again in the 1970s to 1985.

But four record Lolo Zone elk harvests in 1989, 1990, 1992 and 1995 averaging 1,828 each, and the lack of yearling bull elk and surviving calves to replace all adults that were dying is proof that Idaho biologists were either “brain dead” or deliberately destroying the Lolo Zone elk.

In the 1991-92 winter count, there were only 521 yearling bulls to replace the 1992 harvest of 1,447 bull elk. And in the 1994-95 count there were only 438 yearling bulls to replace the 1995 harvest of 1,759 bulls.

Although it is universally accepted that there must be at least 25 elk calves per 100 cows to justify any take by hunters, the Lolo Zone calf-to-cow ratio was only 19.6:100 in 1991/92 and dropped to 14.5:100 in 1995/96.

Managing Wildlife Requires Math, Common Sense

Interpreting the above information is not rocket science, or practicing so-called “ecosystem management” or some other theory that is not based on science or fact. It requires only use of common sense and grade-school math – made even easier with a simple pocket calculator.

On April 30, 1996, IDFG Elk Researcher George Pauley provided a memo to Clearwater Region Wildlife Manager Jay Crenshaw stating F&G had over-harvested bull elk in 11 of the 12 Clearwater Units. He said it caused a 25% decline in bull numbers from 1993-1996, and warned that calf recruitment (survival) had declined a “dramatic” 34% in those units, causing a 41% decline in yearling (replacement) bull numbers.

Pauley’s memo warned Crenshaw the downward trend in elk would continue unless significant harvest management changes were implemented in 11 Units.

But Crenshaw ignored two decades of Lolo Zone elk research confirming that lack of natural forage was not the problem, and increased the number of cow-calf hunt permits in the Lolo Zone from 350 to 1900 in 1996.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Crenshaw left the same number of cow/calf permits in 1997. But despite unlimited either-sex archery elk seasons from 8/30-9/24 and the same bull seasons, and cow/calf hunts from 10/10 through 11/30, hunters only killed 277 cows and 316 bulls.

In 1998 the same either-sex archery seasons continued, but the number of “any-weapon” hunters was limited and all late elk hunting ended on Nov 3. The total kill reported by hunters in the Lolo Zone was only 194 elk, yet there still weren’t enough replacement yearling bulls and the cow-to-calf ratio was only 6.6:100.

IDFG, Commission Ignore Minimums

New 1998-2003 Management Plans for deer and elk were published but the minimum Lolo Cow Elk Objective was, and still is, based on the record low 1997 and 1998 counts. The fact that the published minimums were meaningless to Department officials and the Commission became obvious near the end of a Commission meeting when Commissioner Fred Wood, M.D. addressed Commissioner Richard Meiers, D.D.S.

He told the Commissioners it was unethical to end the meeting without taking action to correct the critical elk problems in the Clearwater Region, and told Meiers they both would be guilty of malpractice if they did that in their medical practice. Yet none of the other Commissioners indicated a desire to even briefly discuss possible solutions.

In 2010 there were only 23 yearling bulls to replace the 124 that were killed by hunters and there were only 13.4 calves per 100 cows. The calculated 2011 and 2012 published Lolo Zone elk harvests were 83 and 100, but no Lolo census info has been published for four years.

For half a century the Clearwater Region provided 45% or more of the elk that were harvested in Idaho. At the risk of overwhelming readers with too much mixed information in a single article, I selected the Lolo Zone as an example because: 1) every adult hunter who hasn’t been living in a vacuum has heard of it; and 2) the exact same thing is happening in other units that formerly provided abundant wild game for thousands of hunters to harvest.

IDFG’s Bighorn Sheep Fiasco – another Example of Wildlife Exploitation to Increase IDFG Revenue
Several times I assisted IDFG Biologist Jim Morgan in his study of Bighorn sheep near Challis, and he kept hinting he wanted to observe sheep in a wilderness situation. I offered to provide the transportation, food, and a tent camp, and be his free assistant to study the largest Bighorn population in Idaho and he quickly accepted.

SoldierBar

Photo taken by author while landing a plane on Soldier Bar, a Forest Service airstrip located on a north-slope bench on the south side of lower Big Creek in the Idaho Primitive Area – designated the “Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness” by Congress in 1984.

Soldier Bar airstrip is about in the center of the Frank Church Wilderness Area, which contained 2,500-3,000 Bighorn sheep long before graduate biologist Dwight Smith studied them from 1949-1952. Looking west in the photo above, Big Creek flows in toward you on the right side about halfway up the photo, and makes a gradual turn exiting the photo near the bottom right corner.

The tiny bit of rocky south-slope hillside that can be seen to the right (north) of Big Creek is part of the winter range inhabited by both sexes in the winter – but only by ewe-lamb groups the rest of the year. An estimated 95% of the land seen in this photo is summer range for ram bands – including the largest one for years.

Every March, while there was still some snow on Soldier Bar, a bachelor band numbering 10-12 rams would cross Big Creek and spend two or more weeks on Soldier Bar until the sun got higher and melted most of the snow. Then one day the rams would all suddenly stand up and follow their leader into the high country.

I set a single well-equipped wall tent on the South side of Soldier Bar and rented a Cessna 180 with retractable skis to pick up Morgan in Challis and fly him to the Bar, which still had snow covering it. At that time the short runway headed straight toward a patch of trees left of the center of the photo, and landing on that one-way strip on skis with a sudden tailwind before touchdown was the beginning of a learning experience for my passenger.

Each day we walked the half mile of trail down to Big Creek with our gear loaded on stout aluminum pack boards, and spent the day counting or photographing sheep. We also captured several ewes and tested and collared them for future observation.

Because I had outfitted from the Taylor Ranch for several years and put up hay to feed my stock for several winters, I spent a lot of time observing the bighorns on an open hillside with three benches across from the ranch. In most of those years, a 2-3 inch snow in the high country in Sept. briefly drove the large ram band down to the ranch.

Although that storm made killing a ram like the proverbial “shooting fish in a barrel,” I was very aware of the need to preserve several of the older rams in each bachelor band. Each spring the dominant ram continued to lead the young rams into the high country, teaching them how and where to escape predators and get fat on the north-slope forage before the Nov.-Dec. breeding season.

Even when I was guiding two return deer and elk hunters who always hunted together, I allowed only one of them to kill one old ram in the “Soldier Bar” band when early snow forced them onto the ranch during the first two weeks of September. The other hunter had to settle for a 5-1/2-year-old-ram from another less accessible location, which was legal – but hardly a trophy.

1952 Study Found a Healthy Bighorn Population

When Dwight Smith conducted his three-year Bighorn study, in late winter he counted an average of 75 rams and 40 surviving lambs for each 100 ewes in the Idaho Primitive Area. In 1952 he suggested allowing a limited number of hunters to hunt Bighorns during the first 14 days in September, but restricting them to killing only mature rams at least 8-1/2 years old.

That meant hunters would concentrate only on old trophy rams, some of which would probably die of natural causes anyway the following winter.

By not killing the 7-1/2 year olds, there would be at least one mature eight-year-old the following spring to lead the bachelor band into the high country.

Everything about Smith’s recommendation made sense, except for Sept. storms, to hunt a “trophy” species in scattered spots that lack a huntable population. Yet IDFG rejected it because “it did not provide a ‘viable’ income.”

F&G Approved Unlimited Number of Hunters in 1956

F&G initially supported 50 tags in the two-week season for a four-year trial, from 1952-1955 – but with only a minimum 3/4-curl rather than protecting all but trophy rams. Nearly 50 hunters each year killed an average of 18 rams so F&G began a general two-week open season in 1956.

As hunters began bringing home more old rams, the number of tags IDFG sold quickly increased from 131 in 1956 with 20 rams reported killed, to 379 in 1959 with 59 rams reported killed. During the five years from 1959-1963 the average number of rams killed each year was 55, and tags sold increased to 552.

However the bachelor bands were being depleted when they came down to winter range early, and some juveniles were remaining with the ewes and lambs and breeding their mothers and sisters. When I brought documentation of this and the poor ewe-lamb ratios to the F&G Commissioners, IDFG’s Big Game Manager told them the rams had changed their migration and some of the lambs were concealed where I couldn’t see them.

I then spent many hours photographing those sheep from late fall through the following spring lambing. The ram band from Soldier Bar had been slaughtered after I quit outfitting and the decline in lambs was obvious.

But when I showed this new documentation to the Commission and requested they restore limited controlled hunts, the Big Game Manager insisted I had altered the photographic evidence to suit my own agenda. This is when I decided to invite Jim Morgan to perform the counts and gather his own evidence.

When Morgan counted the lower Big Creek Bighorns on their winter range in early March, he recorded a ratio of only 19 mostly-young rams and 13 lambs per 100 ewes. This was only one-fourth as many rams and one-third as many lambs as Dwight Smith had counted before the 3/4-curl September general season was implemented.

JimMorgan

Former IDFG Bighorn Sheep Biologist Jim Morgan on lower Big Creek. He is measuring immobilizing drug for insertion into Cap-Chur gun dart prior to capturing ewe for tests and collaring. Photo by author.

The remaining snow had recently melted from the open South slope benches across Big Creek from the Taylor Ranch, and Morgan photographed rivulets of water running down the steep south slope below the first bench. He explained to me that this was evidence of excessive use by livestock, and possibly by deer or sheep.

In 11 years I had never seen any animals on that lower steep South-facing slope. Even the Bighorns walked along or beside a gradual switchback trail on the west side to reach the lower bench.

Rather than explain that, I told him we would return in three weeks and he could photograph that steep hillside again for comparison. Then I walked him down a portion of the lower Middle Fork of the Salmon River below the mouth of Big Creek and showed him acres of bluebunch wheatgrass, and other native grasses emerging, combined with thousands of virtually untouched curl-leaf mountain mahogany bushes (“trees”).

Three weeks later after I flew Morgan back in to Soldier Bar, we hiked to the steep slope across from Taylor Ranch where he had photographed the rivulets. But instead of the erosion damage he had predicted, he saw a smooth new stand of healthy native grass emerging.

I gave Morgan an old photo I had taken of 11 rams waiting on Soldier Bar for the snow to melt before heading into their high country range for ~seven months of the year. Then I described how rams from two bachelor bands sounded like two 2X4s hitting together during their head-butting contests on the rocky ridges overlooking the Taylor Ranch benches.

And later, when the older rams followed a ewe in estrous in single file, I told him how one would viciously slam any younger ram broadside that dared to join the procession. I described an old blue ram with a crooked hind leg that forced him to walk with a limp, yet he was the undisputed leader of the Soldier Bar Bachelor Band until I allowed a hunter to take him.

I told Morgan that the young rams he saw with small ewe-lamb groups remained with them rather than head for the high country because there were no older rams leading bachelor bands for them to follow. Hunters found those same rams with the same ewe-lamb groups when the season opened in September as well as during the breeding season in November and December.

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