Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pennsylvania Elk Management: A Need For More Mature Bulls

I recently attended a "Wild About Elk" workshop, which involved an afternoon of classroom training on the first day, and a morning of field study on Winslow Hill on day two.  This also included a tour of The Elk Country Visitors Center, which is currently under construction and expected to open in late September.  The workshop was sponsored by The Pennsylvania Game Commission and co-ordinated by Theresa Alberici, Wildlife Education Specialist, Harrisburg, PGC.  Administrative Assistance was by Kathy DePuy, Harrisburg, PGC.

Wild About Elk is part of Project Wild, which is administered by the Council for Environmental Education and is co-sponsored by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.  Project Wilds mission is to provide teachers with information and motivation to develop, and  present an environmental curriculum for students ranging from kindergarten through high school.  It is also geared toward informal environmental educators such as those who give presentations to sportsman clubs and civic organizations, or participate in outdoor blogging and video production.

PGC Elk Biologist Jon Di Berti Explains Radio Collars: Photo by W.Hill

PGC Elk Biologist, Jon De Berti was the first speaker and presented an excellent power-point presentation, which dealt with general information about the herd, research, and monitoring of the population.  Mr Di Berti made two points, which validated much of what I have been saying on this blog.
  • We need to manage for trophy bulls. Too many bulls are being taken at or before 5 1/2 years of age and not enough are living to reach their full potential.
I asked Mr. Di Berti if there are more large bulls today than there were before the hunt and he said there is not. The question was asked because some defenders of the hunt as it is currently implemented claim that  the bulls are getting bigger as a result of  the elk hunt and other management policies.  There is no doubt land management practices have resulted in better habitat for elk, but there seems to be no reason to believe that the hunt has increased the number and quality of mature bulls.

A Monster Bull In Pre-hunt Era- Video Still by W.Hill

 Few if any bulls live to reach this size today, a prime example being the bull pictured below, which was already a large bull in 2002, but not as impressive as the bull above.  It survived the first season, but not the second.  It was acclimated to humans and was commonly seen around Medix Run and Winslow Hill.  It was allegedly killed at Medix Run that year.  If a bull reaches exceptional size now, a tremendous effort is mounted to take him, and there is little chance that he will survive for a significant length of time unless he remains in the No Hunt Zone or property where elk hunting is not permitted.

Acclimated Bull February 2002: Photo-W.Hill
Mr. Di Berti also addressed elk numbers, and his presentation reinforced information we received last year that indicated that there were likely less elk than what many think. In fact there are likely less elk now than there were before the hunt began contrary to the claims of some.
  • Population estimates are far from an exact science. "There is 95% confidence that our elk population is somewhere from about 450 animals, to just over 1,000 animals."
Mr. Di Berti went on to explain that often when allocations were set in the past,  many PGC Commissioners focused on the high number, which resulted in  license allocations being higher than could be justified, because the actual number of elk was much lower.  Since 2008 allocations have been based on the lower number known  as MNA, which means minimum number alive.

According to Carol Mulvihill, writing in the June 19, 2010 edition of Endeavor News, "the herd is smaller than the 700-plus elk population that existed before hunting began in 2001." Ms Mulvihill then goes on to make the point that it may be time to let the herd grow to 800-1,200 animals.  I recall that this was the plan when the trap and transfer program was taking place during the late 1990s, but this figure seemed to vanish from discussion when  trap and transfer was discontinued due to resistance from landowners.  Still the elk have naturally spread over a larger area and it seems that the herd could be allowed to increase to those numbers without putting undue pressure on the habitat or the inhabitants of Pennsylvania's Elk Country.

Original content posted at  http://pawildlifephotographer.blogspot.com/


Bird Girl said...

Boy, these issues sure do get complicated. I think it is a lot harder to manage a hunting season - a herd, the surrounding inhabitants and habitats, etc. than we can ever imagine. And of course - everyone has their own idea as to how this all should be done. Interesting stuff, Willard! That big old fella is something to see!

EG Wow said...

How sad the herd is actually smaller than was thought. Interesting post, Willard!

Anonymous said...

Willard ~ Thank you so much for the countless hours you spend in order to educate people about our elk. We appreciate all that you do.

Feral Female said...

How sad that the herd isn`t doing as well as first thought. Wonderful photos of some amazing bulls Willard!

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Willard: You certainly do all you can to spread the word.

Anonymous said...

I think you and your state and the people living there have already done a masterful job in taking care of wildlife. So much to learn from you if you could somehow spread the word. Ohio now has more deer than I can ever remember but I seldom see one anywhere except those sometimes killed on Interstate 70.

Denise said...

Another very informative post Willard. Thank you so much.

An English Girl Rambles

SaraG said...

WOW, great post Willard! You do some awesome things.
I love your pictures.
Sorry I haven't visited and commented lately, I have been trying to get caught up after taking a vacation. Just now getting some pictures up from the trip!
Hope you are doing well.
Take care

Brad Myers said...

Interesting Willard, it sounds like you got some good information. I am looking forward to talking with you about the visitors center. We had a good three day trip to the North. Hot but the Elk were out for a few hours each day. We did get to see Odie and Fred. And we caught up with Steve Friel but we just missed Buckwheat. Now I am ready for the rut.

Coy said...

I'm very glad to see that the issue of killing the bull before their prime is recognized by the scientific branch of the PGC, public pressure may help to change the political side of the equation. Keep getting the word out!