Responding to complaints about agricultural damage, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) next month plans to move about 200 elk from the Hanford Reservation near the Tri-Cities to the Selkirk Mountains in northeast Washington and the Blue Mountains in the southeast part of the state.
The relocation proposal was presented last month in public open houses, attended by about 300 people in Kennewick, Clarkston and Newport. Most voiced or submitted written comment supporting the relocation.
The elk population on and around the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Hanford nuclear site and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's (USFWS) Fitzner-Eberhardt Arid Lands Ecology reserve (ALE) in Benton County has grown from eight animals in 1975 to over 800 today. The growing herds, mostly unchecked by hunting because of public access restrictions, are causing damage to private agricultural lands. Under state law, WDFW is responsible for responding to complaints about agricultural damage caused by wildlife.
Over the next few years WDFW plans to capture and relocate up to 500 elk to other areas of the state. WDFW also may seek to control the Hanford elk population through future permit-controlled hunting on the ALE reserve. The decision whether to allow hunting will be made by USFWS in cooperation with WDFW, DOE and the tribes.
About 200 elk will be captured in early March. The first 100 will go to the Selkirk and 49 Degrees North Game Management Units (GMU) in Pend Oreille County, and the second 100 will go to the Lick Creek GMU in the Blue Mountains of Garfield and Asotin counties.
In addition to DOE and USFWS, WDFW is working cooperatively on the Hanford elk relocation operation with county officials, the Yakama, Umatilla, Nez Perce, and Kalispel Indian tribes, Inland Northwest Wildlife Council (INWC), other wildlife conservation organizations and private landowners.