YAKIMA - New elk population data indicating a decline in the elk population in the Colockum area will translate into changes for hunters this year, the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) reported today.
Antlerless elk will not be legal game in the Colockum area for archery-only elk hunting seasons. Only spike bulls will be legal during general archery seasons in Game Management Units (GMU) 328-335.
Antlerless elk hunting by special permit for both modern firearm and muzzleloader hunters has also been eliminated in all but one Colockum area GMU. Antlerless elk special permits were reduced in three West Bar hunts by 50 percent to five permits each. A limited number of permits for branch-antlered bulls will still be available.
The changes were made because elk population estimates for the past three years have indicated a decline, says WDFW regional wildlife program manager Lee Stream.
Stream explained that in 2001 surveys indicated approximately 4,500 elk on Colockum winter range - within WDFW's desired herd level of 4,275 to 4,725 elk. Late winter surveys in 2002 and 2003 totaled fewer and fewer elk on winter range. The last count in February 2004 showed only 3,400 elk.
"Harvest of antlerless elk increased dramatically in 2002," Stream said, "even exceeding the bull harvest. And our preliminary estimates for the 2003 season suggest antlerless harvest was again high, probably higher than the number of calves coming into the population. We essentially eliminated all of the antlerless special permit opportunity for modern firearm and muzzleloader, but that still wasn't going to be enough of a reduction in antlerless harvest to get us back to our objective."
Stream said one reason for the high antlerless harvest was increased harvest in damage areas around Wenatchee and Ellensburg.
"Many landowners in the area have become intolerant of the number of elk seasonally present on their lands," Stream explained. "They really wanted to see more of those damage-causing elk removed."
The only option to stem the decline was to eliminate most non-damage-related antlerless elk hunting, Stream said. With February's data in hand, Stream and other WDFW managers proposed the change to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission at its April 2-3 meeting.
Now the only antlerless harvest of elk allowed outside damage areas are 35 permits in elk area 3028, which are designed to collect needed biological information, and 15 permits spread over three hunts in the West Bar unit, which are damage-related and also designed to keep elk from swimming the Columbia River when pressured during the hunting season.
"The management of Colockum elk is a complicated issue that deserves more public input," Stream said. "We're drafting a Colockum Elk Herd Plan that should be available for public review by this fall. We plan to hold public meetings and post the draft plan on our web site to gather input before finalizing it."
Hunters should consult the WDFW 2004-2005 Big Game Hunting Seasons and Rules pamphlet.