What Do We Want?
"The Gilbert" on a saturday morning during the rut
"The Gilbert" without elk or visitors
Edward G. Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania has targeted the north central portion of the state for increased nature tourism with elk viewing being the primary attraction to get people there and then get them interested in other outdoor related activities as well.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission hereinafter referred to as the PGC has announced support for this plan. They have publicly stated that they want to divert hunting attention away from the public lands and from large branch antlered bulls, and focus hunting pressure in areas where conflicts occur with humans.
In fact they have targeted the large bulls and they have heavily targeted the public lands near the viewing areas where there is no conflict with agricultural interests or a significant number of homeowners.
If they address what they perceive as “the habituated elk” problem then they must eliminate the herds that visit the viewing areas on Winslow Hill, and then elk tourism, as we know it is gone. All this while The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is planning an elk-viewing portal at their property on Winslow Hill.
That is the problem as I see it. Some facts and possible solutions are as follows. This is grossly oversimplified, but it is a starting point.
As matters stand:
The PGC does not profit from elk tourism.
A hunt is currently held, and it is likely that one must be held to prevent the animals from spreading into more heavily settled areas of the state.
The PGC needs to receive income from the tourist industry. It would take little to surpass what they currently derive from hunting ($ 178.615.00 in 2007). One idea is that one would need a basic hunting license to be present on PGC lands or in lieu thereof a use stamp or permit. This should not cost more than a basic hunting license and persons under a certain age should be exempt. It would be beneficial to study the National Park Service Fee structures and entrance policies for further ideas. (Shenandoah National Park charges $30.00 for a one-year pass, which is good for anyone in the vehicle with the pass holder.) This would not work well in the Pennsylvania, but it is a point to start from.
The PGC currently receives funds or land from sources other than license sales and it is likely to receive funding from other sources in the near future or else be absorbed into another agency such as DCNR. Other sources at present are:
2.Lands donated whole or partially by other organizations.
Where we need to go from here!
A herd managed primarily for tourism with emphasis on maintaining a satisfactory number of mature bulls.
Present viewing areas maintained much as they are with the public not permitted to walk into the meadows and spook the elk.
The back country maintained much like it is now, with access not being denied at any period, but vehicles not permitted so that those that want to hike to a remote area could observe and photograph elk in a wild situation. This should keep disturbance suitably low.
Forget the nonsense that the habituated elk must be killed. It all depends on what “habituated” means. The elk need not be so wild that someone who hikes into the backcountry gets only a glimpse of an elk running away. The situation as it exists is about right for viewing at present, but it is too tolerant for ethical hunting. Hazing or harassing the elk to make them wilder is not the remedy. There is no reason that elk in a tourist zone should be frightened of humans.
A greatly increased NO HUNT ZONE-the boundaries to be determined by careful study but it should include at least 80% of Elk Hunt Zone 2, and a portion of ELK HUNT ZONE 8. This should be the minimum and more would be preferred!
There will always be a certain amount of conflict at the borders of a no hunt zone and a hunt zone, with animals being too acclimated, but it would be lessened if the borders were well away from the population centers and the primary tourist areas.
A limited population control hunt held well away from Winslow Hill would likely control elk numbers to the extent that little if any population management would be needed in The No Hunt Zone.
If a trophy hunt must be held, then areas such as The Quehanna Wild Area are where it should be held, not in the backyard of the viewing areas.
If population control is needed in the No Hunt Zone:
PGC employees could perform it in a carefully prescribed manner. This would be the most effective method, as animals could be selectively culled to remove certain problem animals, but this approach would likely not be acceptable to many and it would be the most expensive to implement.
If this was the case, “hunters” could be used, but this should not be called a fair chase hunt. In neither case should large bulls should be taken. It should not be portrayed as challenging and it should not be held annually,but ONLY AS NEEDED! and Needed should not be construed as an opportunity to slip in a back door regular hunting season. Use of hunters would make it much more difficult to cull animals with problems and would be more likely to result in any elk being killed regardless of physical condition.