Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Rush To An Elk Season

7x7 at Hicks Run Winter 1998: Minolta XE-7 400mm Vivitar

Rawland Cogan directed the development of a Management Plan for Elk in Pennsylvania that was approved in 1996. The plan also advocated the implementation of hunting as a means of population control. It was decided to explore the possibility of holding an elk hunt in the near future. At first the target was 1998, but it was decided that this was too short of a time frame to put the necessary mechanism in place.

Instead The Commission concentrated on a trap and transfer program designed to alleviate overpopulation in the central elk range, while at the same time expanding the elk herd into other areas.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation funded a study gauging “The Economic Impact of Pennsylvania’s Elk Herd”. Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, and Penn State, research interns conducted the interviews. This study also included a survey of public sentiment about a limited elk hunt away from the major viewing areas. (Strauss, Tzilkowski, Lord, - The School of Forest Resources The Pennsylvania State University -University Park, Pennsylvania 9/30/99)

In either 1997 or 1998 I encountered the interns when I returned to a PGC parking lot after a morning of photography. A large crowd of tourists was there and I was not one of those selected to participate in the survey. For some reason I did not videotape this and thus missed recording an important moment in the history of Pennsylvania’s elk herd.

The report is extremely detailed, but the results on hunt approval can be condensed to the following:

1. 53% of those surveyed approved of a possible hunt.
2. 62% of hunters approved
3. 39% of non- hunters approved
4. Of those surveyed who expressed approval, the most common membership affiliations were with The National Rifle Association and The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

During this time frame PGC Commissioner George Miller toured the elk range. I learned of this from Dr. Perk. He was impressed with Mr. Miller, but this was before Miller allegedly made a remark to the effect that a hunt must be held soon or public sentiment would be so against it that it would be impossible in the future.

The PGC adopted the position that a hunt would soon be needed to control the expanding population, so an Elk Hunt Advisory Committee was formed in 1999 with Cogan as chairman. The committee included representatives from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, hunters, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; tourism and agricultural interests; the legislature and other stakeholders in the elk program.

Perk could see the world as he knew it coming to an end as these events unfolded and he was extremely unhappy as the rush toward the first modern day Pennsylvania elk hunt began. As it turned out he was not alone!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dr. Perk-The Story Continues: Part 3

According to the “Management Plan For Elk In Pennsylvania 2006-2016-Jon Marc DeBerti Wildlife Biologist” (page 14)

“In October 1995, the PGC (Commissioners) voted unanimously to prohibit the artificial feeding of elk under 58 Pa. Code S137.32. However, prosecution of this violation will remain difficult until the interpretation of this violation is accepted as intended by the judiciary. A new regulation closing loopholes will be in effect beginning in 2006. With the passage of this revised regulation, the PGC will begin to address artificial feeding situations on a case by case basis.”

“The PGC does not support artificial feeding of elk for the following reasons:
1) Feeding creates a public safety hazard for vehicles along
roadways, especially Route 555,
2) The feeding creates a public safety hazard because elk display
aggressive behavior in artificial feeding situations,
3) Diseases such as brainworm and chronic wasting disease (CWD),
along with parasites such as winter ticks are of paramount concern
when large concentrations of elk are fed for a prolonged period of
time in the same vicinity,
4) Elk may become dependent upon the artificial feeding sites to
survive the winter,
5) Elk also become acclimated to humans making them more
susceptible to poaching,
6) tourists travel to the elk range to view elk in their "natural"
7) Studies indicate that the habitats near feeding locations can be
degraded because of the high use by concentrations of elk and
deer (Michigan DNR 1999).”

Tourists feed and photograph spike bull at Grant 1998

Perk continued to feed the animals, staking his hopes on a sign, which he erected in his lawn that stated the feed was for deer only not elk.

I am unclear as to the chronology of some of these events, but the situation heated up with both parties making derogatory comments about the other.

On one occasion I traveled with my supervisor (maintenance), Billie Cromwell, to visit Mr. Cogan. This was strictly unofficial as we both were on vacation. Billie was involved in an unofficial capacity in filming the PGC Elk Video: Pennsylvania Elk Reclaiming The Alleghenies. (We will delve into this more in the near future).I recall little from the meeting except that Cogan definitely had a negative opinion of Perk. At the time I was inclined to agree on most points.

Perk was both attracted to the PGC and at the same time exhibited an attitude toward it. Notice the black hat in the first post about him. This is a story in itself, but the condensed version is that cap was an “unofficial” PGC hat, which many officers wore with the lawn enforcement uniform. This was against policy, but at the time the approved headgear was a Stetson and most did not like wearing it in the field. Someone designed this hat and it ended up being used a great deal. It had the state insignia and Pennsylvania Game Commission emblazoned on the front. If an officer made the mistake of wearing it around supervisory personnel, they were given a verbal or written reprimand. In time it was approved to wear this type of cap for most functions, albeit in a modified version which was not as attractive as the original. In short, Perk was not illegally wearing a uniform item. He was not above wearing this cap and a revolver when he interacted with the public and it is likely that he hoped they perceived him as an officer.

I usually went into the backcountry to videotape. When I ran into Perk (back in civilization),he would always ask if I had seen any bears, mountain lions, black panthers, etc. He also told me it was too dangerous for him back there. I don’t know if he thought I was a greenhorn and was trying to scare me or if he meant it, but depending on my mood the comments either amused me or irritated me.

Another classic case was when a bull was gored in a fight with another, and the PGC had to put it down, as intestines were dangling from the animal. Perk arrived on the scene. He agreed with what had to be done, but then came off with a fantastic statement to the effect that, “I wonder what his wife and children will do now that he’s gone”, this in reference to the dead bull!

As a result I was somewhat ambivalent about him. He never invited me back to the house to shoot, but again neither was he hostile to me, I definitely sympathized with his desire to see and record elk.

I was told that eventually the PGC placed his residence under surveillance and caught him feeding the elk. The problem was that they actually saw him hand feeding one, so the deer feeding excuse did not work. It is my understanding that he was not charged with the offense, but rather given a warning.

Elk Feeding: Game Lands Near Perk's House Winter 1998

A major part of the controversy arose when ill fortune befell “Jake”. I have no personal knowledge of the incident, but I do know something about the type of procedure that followed.

According to the story that circulated, “Jake” was creating problems, either by taking up residence in a town or near someone’s house. In any case, a complaint was registered. When this happens someone is assigned to deal with the incident and it must be resolved. This usually involves tranquilizing the animal and moving him far away. “Jake” had been moved before, but always found his way back. This time as the story goes, Cogan tranquilized him, transported him to the remote Quehanna Wild Area, and released him. The upshot was that he died! Cogan reportedly said that he was found a mile from where he released him, but Perk and his friends said that you could track the trailer tracks to “Jake’s” body. They lost no opportunity to tell anyone that would listen that “Rawley” killed Jake”. It was implied that it was on purpose!

"Jake in 1995"

To be fair, tranquilizing and relocating a large animal such as an elk or bear is not an exact science and much can go wrong even when one has the best of intentions.

By this time feelings were running high in both camps and neither side seemed likely to back down.

To be continued: