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Washington State Elk Herd Plan: Blue Mountains Elk Herd

Category: Wildlife Research and Management - Game Management and Conservation

Date Published: January 2001

Number of Pages: 54

Author(s): Pat E. Fowler

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

The Blue Mountain Elk Herd is one of ten herds identified in the state. It is an important resource that provides significant recreational, aesthetic, cultural, and economic benefit to the people. The Blue Mountain elk population peaked in the late 1970's at an estimated 6,500 elk and started declining in the late 1980's with an estimated population of 4,500 in 1999.

Herd surveys have tracked sex and age composition to determine productivity and survival of calves and population trends. Cow:calf ratios declined from 38-45 calves:100 cows historically to 16-25 calves:100 cows in recent years. Cow:bull ratios dropped significantly in the 1980s. In 1989, a harvest management strategy was implemented with a spike bull general season, and branch-antlered bulls by permit only. This harvest strategy was established to improve low bull ratios. In two years the spike only rule improved bull ratios significantly. Though pregnancy rates, peak conception date, and early summer calf ratios have improved to 50+ calves:100 cows, calf survival remains below desired levels and the population has remained below objective level of 5,600.

The purpose of this plan is to provide direction for the management of the Blue Mountains elk resource into the future. This is a five-year plan subject to amendment. Before the fifth year this plan should be updated, reevaluated, amended and extended out for another 5-year period. It will be a valuable reference document and guideline for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Tribes, agency cooperators, landowners and the public. Priority management activities can be carried out as funding and resources become available.

There are three primary goals stated in the Blue Mountains Elk Herd Plan: (1) to manage the elk herd for a sustained yield; (2) to manage elk for a variety of recreational, educational and aesthetic purposes including hunting, scientific study, cultural and ceremonial uses by Native Americans, wildlife viewing and photography; and (3) to preserve, protect, perpetuate, manage and enhance elk and their habitats to ensure healthy, productive populations.

Specific elk herd and habitat management goals, objectives, problems and strategies have been stated in the plan. These are priority objectives identified to address specific problems in elk management. To accomplish each objective a variety of strategies have been developed. The following objectives have been identified:

  • Increase elk population levels in GMUs 166 (Tucannon), 169 (Wenaha), 172 (Mountain View) and, 175 (Lick Creek); maintain population levels in GMUs 154 (Blue Creek), 157 (Mill Creek Watershed), 162 (Dayton), and 186 (Grande Ronde); and suppress population levels in GMUs 163 (Marengo), 178 (Peola), and 181 (Couse).
  • Manage the Blue Mountains elk herd using the best available science.
  • Provide recreational hunting opportunity consistent with overall elk herd management objectives and specific bull elk survival targets.
  • Coordinate management of sub-herds within GMUs 157, 169, 172, and 186 with the State of Oregon.
  • Increase public awareness of the elk resource and promote viewing and photographic opportunities.
  • Reduce damage complaints caused by elk on private lands.
  • Correlate recreational harvest of black bear and cougar with elk management objectives.
  • Control poaching of elk.
  • Cooperate with the Nez Perce and Umatilla Tribes to carry out the Blue Mountains Elk Herd Plan.
  • Improve habitat conditions for elk on National Forest, WDFW, and other public lands.
  • Encourage private landowners to enhance elk habitats.

Spending priorities have been identified for the first year and next five years. Achieving spending levels will be contingent upon availability of funds and creation of partnerships. The recommended annual prioritized expenditures for the Blue Mountains elk herd are as follows:

Prioritized Expenditures 1st year 5 years
Elk herd composition surveys $17,000.00 $85,000.00
Improve collection of hunter harvest and effort data $12,500.00 $62,500.00
Landowner/elk conflicts $70,000.00 $350,000.00
Peola elk fence extension and maintenance. $190,000.00 $190,000.00
Habitat Preservation Program: habitat easements, etc. $25,000.00 $125,000.00
Elk habitat improvement $20,000.00 $100,000.00
Elk augmentation $25,000.00 $25,000.00
TOTAL $359,500.00 $937,500.00