OLYMPIA – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has scheduled a public open house July 18 in SeaTac to discuss draft management plans for the Mount St. Helens elk herd and the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area currently out for public review.
The meeting, designed to give people a chance to discuss the plans with state wildlife biologists one-on-one, is scheduled from 7-9 p.m. in the Rainier Room of the Red Lion Hotel Seattle Airport, 18220 International Blvd.
Two similar meetings were held last month in Longview and Vancouver, Wash.
“In recent weeks, I’ve personally heard from a number of hunters and other people in the Seattle area who wanted to discuss the specifics of these draft management plans,” said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. “We added this meeting to give people in the central Puget Sound area an opportunity to talk directly to the department’s wildlife managers.”
The draft plan for the elk herd outlines proposed strategies for managing the state’s largest elk herd, which includes an estimated 13,000 animals in four counties. Issues addressed in the draft plan range from reducing the size of the herd to making area habitat improvements.
The draft plan for the state wildlife area sets out management strategies for 2,744 acres below the western slope of Mount St. Helens, owned and managed by WDFW primarily as an elk winter range. The draft plan addresses forage, fertilization, soil stabilization and other habitat issues, along with public use of the area.
The draft elk herd management plan is available on the department’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/elk/sthelens.htm. The draft plan for the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/sthelens/manage.htm. Hard copies of both draft plans can also be obtained through the mail by contacting the department at Wildlife Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091.
The public comment period for both draft plans has been extended to July 22, 2006. Both plans are scheduled for completion before the coming winter, when harsh conditions take the heaviest toll on elk.
One new policy proposed in the herd plan is to reduce the size of the overall herd to about 10,000 animals over a period of several years, said Steve Pozzanghera, WDFW deputy assistant wildlife director. WDFW is proposing to accomplish that goal by expanding hunting opportunities for cow elk.
“The herd appears to be at – or near – its limit, both biologically and in terms of human acceptance,” Pozzanghera said. “By reducing the size of the herd, we hope to reduce the competition for forage among the remaining animals.”
The draft plan for the wildlife area also calls for change in management policies designed to improve conditions for wintering elk, Pozzanghera said. Starting this winter, the draft plan calls for closing the wildlife area to public access from Dec. 1 through April 30 to minimize disturbances to the elk that winter there.
“Elk are easily spooked by human activity,” said Pozzanghera, noting that the policy change was supported by the department’s Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area Citizens Advisory Group. “Those disturbances can interrupt foraging and require elk to expend valuable energy at a time the animals can least afford it.”
The Mount St. Helens elk herd is one of 10 herds in Washington state. Since 2001, WDFW has finalized management plans for six of those herds and is continuing to work on the remaining four “as staff time and agency budgets permit,” Pozzanghera said.
“The purpose of these plans is to provide site-specific management direction for each herd, beyond that provided in the department’s statewide Game Management Plan,” he said. “Elk, like all wildlife, are a public resource and we encourage people to become involved in helping the department chart a management course for herds.”