Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Too Many Elk On Winslow Hill?

As we noted in the post of Thursday April 14, the Pennsylvania Game Commission' drastically increased the elk license allocations for the 2011 season, for Hunt Zones 2 and 8, which are those that most directly impact the viewing areas and center of elk related tourism on Winslow Hill.  It is claimed that an increased kill is needed because this is the largest sub-herd and has showed the most increase. To be quite frank I have noticed the increased visibility of elk in this area in the last  few years, but have been reluctant to comment about the situation in the fear that it would help draw attention to what some are sure to perceive as a problem.  While some may claim that this perceived problem is a result of not killing enough elk, based on my years of experience as a Game Lands Maintenance Worker and later Game Lands Maintenance Supervisor with the PGC, I am reasonably certain that this seemingly large increase in the herd on Winslow Hill has been caused by the massive amounts of reclamation work that has been done in the area during the past decade.  As a result there are more high quality grasses available as food for elk than ever before, which tends to draw elk from surrounding areas and concentrate them in a relatively small area.

Bull Elk Follows Cow:  Reclaimed Area Of SGL 311: Grasses planted among cover crop of grain.

 Elk, like any other animal, gravitate toward the best food sources and at this time a significant proportion of this improved habitat is visible from the elk viewing area at Dewey Road, which I persist in calling "The Gilbert Viewing Area".  This will change in a short amount of time whether more hunting pressure is directed at the area or not.  The reason for this change will be that the quality of the grass will decline and then the elk will shift the focus of their feeding to areas where the best food may be found.  The only way that the large herd will remain concentrated  there is if a significant portion of the grasslands is renewed periodically by replanting.

As an example, I recall that in late summer of 2006 the reclaimed area between the Maynard Woodring property and Elk View Diner (this had been an area of slag piles, etc. but was now a meadow) was covered with a carpet of luscious grasses including different varieties of clovers and trefoil and a large number of elk were attracted to the area.

Area Near Elk View Diner Carpeted With Clover And Trefoil: Photo by W.Hill
This has remained a good spot to see elk, but it was not used nearly as much last fall as in the period from 2006-2009, and the reason is that the more desirable varieties of grass were dying out, while freshly planted reclaimed areas near Dewey Road, The Saddle, and at The Elk Country Visitor Center, attracted the lions share of the elk.  The PGC has also traditionally planted at least one food plot at the Dent's Run Viewing Area (the one with the information center) and usually one or two at The Gilbert.  This has served to keep elk coming to these areas in most years, but I do not think it is sufficient to attract and hold the 150-200 animals that the PGC says is in the area at present, so regardless as to whether or not they shoot more elk on Winslow Hill, you likely won't see as many there in the not too distant future, unless the PGC maintains an aggressive planting program in the area.

PGC Prepares Food Plot For Planting At Gilbert Viewing Area
Another example as to why this is likely the case is the rut of 2007.  The PGC planted the usual food plots at both the Gilbert and Dent's Run viewing areas, but The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which then owned the Elk Country Visitor Center property, planted a lot of high quality forage in their food plots, while there was an extremely large  newly reclaimed area on State Game Lands 311, which was planted in fall grain and highly desirable grasses.  This was located in the back country toward the mountains to the West of Dewey Road.

Remote Reclaimed Area Of SGL 311: In 2007 this and plots at RMEF attracted many elk usually seen At Gilbert and Dent's Run Viewing Areas
 There were many times that there weren't many elk to be seen in the usual viewing areas and some people who made only a one day trip didn't see one bull.  There were a lot of complaints that year that there were no elk on Winslow Hill, but the bottom line was that most were at The Elk Foundation where the general public was not permitted to be, or at the reclaimed area, which required a substantial walk to access.  Most of the public didn't know how to find it anyway, and it would likely have been perceived to be a problem had they found out about it and arrived in large numbers to look for elk.  I heard the person working at the information booth at the Dent's Run viewing area that fall tell most of what I have just related to several groups of people, as I was browsing the literature and displays in the building.

The bottom line is that it seems likely that this herd will disperse to a certain extent, if not a great deal, once this bonanza of high quality food is gone.  In the meantime the PGC has started down the slippery slope of increasing license allocations in the area.  If they were concerned only about elk over-population as they claim, why has pressure been substantially increased on the bulls also?  I fully understand that many of the bulls that one sees on Winslow Hill during the rut, come from other areas to Winslow Hill and are in another area entirely when hunting season arrives, but with that being said there were a substantial number of large bulls that did make that general area their year around range and most of these animals have been shot.  In some years, Pennsylvania has a 100% success rate on bulls and it is seldom much less than that, so in effect this means it is highly likely that eight more of the bulls that frequent the tourist areas will be killed this fall.

From my point of view, it is amazing that we overshot the whitetail buck population to the extent that the PGC enacted antler restrictions to enable more bucks to live long enough to grow somewhat better antlers, yet we seem hell bent on killing the exceptional bull elk and making the same mistake with them that we did with the deer.

In the near future, I plan to further explore how and why we have arrived at this point in Pennsylvania Elk Management.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Willard: Thanks for sharing your take on this decision. Too bad that not much can be done once they make these decrees.

richard l coy said...

Thanks Wiaared as usual a fine update and thought on the situation, Yes they have managed to over kill the white tails.. We have very few here any more and the hunters are complainng. Now to the elk they have as you have said make huge food plots which will bring the elk in for cherry picking, murder is my word for it.

I understand management but this is rdiculous.

√ Honest Abe said...

I am not all that familiar with your herds in Pennsylvania but an thankful you all have them.

I hope Ohio keeps state forests like Shawnee, in trust for generations to come. I used to go there a lot when I was younger. Lots of wildlife is there.

I spent years finding game trails over ridges and then spent weekends learning how to walk up to deer as they crossed the ridges.

I got so good at it that I was face to face with deer, could see the whiskers move, eyelashes, and watch them looking me square in the eyes without moving. I am guessing about 5 or 6 feet away from each other. Very close.

That is a whole process that took me years to master and a lot of rotten apples to disguise my human scent.

JimB said...


Very well written explanation of the current situation. I am concerned with the overall health of the elk herd and it seems that a group is hell bent on ruining a good thing!