Thursday, December 6, 2007

Elk Management in PA. Where We Should Go From Here!

What Do We Want?
Elk Along Winslow Hill Road

Elk Watchers

"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:
1.Growing Greener
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.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It 's A Disease

I noticed recently that I am getting several hits from people searching google images. I must admit that I was not aware of the Google Image search feature before . I typed in Pennsylvania Elk" and came across a link to King's Outdoor World, the particular page features two still pictures and a video clip titled "What Does This Elk Score?" The following is a quote from that page:

"This bull is a herd bull that is a result of transplanted elk to the east to help build up the herd years ago and therefore has a radio collar on its neck as wildlife authorities keep a close eye on the herd. Don’t let that make you think that it is a high fenced bull. This is a fair chase bull that a lucky hunter could very well get this year through their lottery draw."

Of course it is not a high fenced bull, but it is completely tame and trusting to humans. This is bull number 36 or "Fred" as most call him. He has survived to date by remaining in the No Hunting Zone. This animal's tolerance range of humans can be measured in mere feet. "Fair Chase", I think not!

It totally gripes me, why people cannot enjoy seeing an impressive animal such as this without thinking about killing him. The video clip starts with a shot of another bull and then there is Fred chasing a cow. You can hear someone say," I think I could even hit him from here" Some one else says ,"Oh I could probably get one in him"

Bull Number 36-"Fred"
Above is a photograph of "Fred" in 2005 when he had a more perfect and perhaps larger rack. It would simply be murder to shoot this bull. I featured him in a previous post where he was shown with the rack that he had this fall and with his collar showing. In the picture above it was removed in photoshop.

It would seem to me that even dedicated hunters would want to preserve at least a few of these monsters so that they could drive to the viewing areas and see what a true large bull looks like, but evidently some are not that far sighted. All they can think about is pulling the trigger or releasing the arrow.

I have been assured by a person who is on good terms with many of the elk guides that many of them have no interest in guiding a hunter to "Fred". In her words, "The person who kills Fred will be totally ostracized." I hope that is the case.

Since 1997 I have had him in numerous circumstances where I could have "put one in him", but I never had the slightest desire or thought of it. Instead I enjoyed observing this magnificent animal and obtaining photographs of him.

My experience is not unique. Most serious visitors to Winslow Hill have gotten close enough to him to"put one in him" on numerous occasions! Many specifically look for him when they travel to the elk range and are concerned about his welfare.

I think many would enjoy the outdoors and wildlife more if they could drop this total absorption with killing. They carry the obsession to the stage that it becomes a disease!

I must repeat that I have no quarrel with the person who hunts legally and ethically!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Cow 1D

This is cow 1D. According to the check station records she was taken in Benezette Township, on November 5th, the first day of elk season at 7:10 a.m.

Here she is pictured early on the morning of August 13, 2007. She was among the buildings at the Game Commission’s Dent’s Run Viewing Area on Winslow Hill. The viewing area is in the no hunt zone. Elk move about quite a bit so it would not be unusual for her to be in an area open to hunting when season opened.

No other persons were there and she was not alarmed at my presence.

Above Shots: Sony HVR-A1u Camcorder, card camera mode
Canon 10-D 70-200mm L f 2.8

I also photographed her once during the rut, but only took one shot. This time she was watching two bulls that were out of my sight. I mostly had my attention on them also and soon had the opportunity to record and photograph a magnificent 6x6 bull that came out of the hollow.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Salty Speaks Out!

Mature Cow Elk: Canon 10D, 70-200mmL, F2.8

In case you haven’t been reading the comments, here is Salty’s statement on the situation. This is his response to “What’s Wrong With This Picture?

These elk are “wild” only if one defines wild as being unfenced and free to go where they please. To define them as “tame” would be a misnomer also as no one can control them as one does domestic livestock. If herd control is the objective, then I could support the scientific controlled hunt but as the hunt targets a disproportionate number of the large bulls it simply appears to be nothing more than a “Canned” Trophy hunt. I’m somewhat concerned that the Pennsylvania Game Commissions true objective is to destroy the tourist value of this herd by targeting the large bulls. Not only do they kill them in the hunting season but they also collar seemingly all that they get their hands on. These large yellow collars certainly detract from the viewing value of the animal and from its photographic appeal. The message (propaganda) repeated time and time again in the press proclaiming the “challenge” of hunting these “wild” beasts is simply a case of being “on message” and hitting the “talking points” to sell this “hunt” to the unknowing general public. Just as calling people Japs, Krauts, Viet Cong, Gooks, etc in our recent history was used to make killing people palatable; “Wild” and “Challenging” is used in reference to the elk to sell this “hunt”.

" The Salty Dawg" Dec.1, 2007