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Washington State Elk Herd Plan: North Cascade (Nooksack) Elk Herd

Category: Wildlife Research and Management - Game Management and Conservation

Date Published: March 2002

Number of Pages: 59

Author(s): Michael A. Davison

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

The North Cascade elk herd is the smallest of ten herds residing in the state. It is a small herd and the northern most herd in western Washington. Nevertheless, it is an important resource that provides significant recreational, aesthetic, and economic benefit to Washington citizens and a valued cultural, subsistence, and ceremonial resource to the Native American people of the area.

This is a reintroduced herd resulting from successful augmentations in 1946 and 1948 of eastern and western Washington elk. The estimated peak population of 1,700 elk occurred in 1984. Since then, the population has sharply declined to a current estimate of about 300 elk.

The core population in the Nooksack game management unit occupies about 1,230 square kilometers (492 square miles). About 125 other elk live in the agricultural lands along the Skagit River; the remaining elk live in the higher elevation, forested lands north of the Skagit River.

Analysis of population and trend data shows good potential for this herd. Survey data, although limited in sample size, shows good calf production. Despite these favorable conditions, the herd has remained static and at low levels. Unaccounted mortality, despite hunting season closures, may be a significant factor preventing population growth.

Habitat changes caused by increased timber harvest should have been favorable for elk population growth. However, increased human access and visibility may have resulted in the unaccounted mortality that is suppressing this elk population. While elk damage and use on agriculture lands is also an issue, it is recognized that private lands along the Skagit River are important areas for elk and that habitat must be preserved and protected.

This plan's purpose is to provide direction for the management of the North Cascade 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 implemented for another five-year period. It will be a valuable reference document and guideline for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, tribes, agency cooperators, landowners and the public. Priority management activities can be carried out as funding and resources become available.

Three primary goals guide the North Cascade Elk Herd Plan: (1) to manage this 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 manage and enhance elk and their habitats to ensure healthy, productive populations.

Specific elk herd and habitat management objectives, problems and strategies are identified in the plan. Priority objectives address specific problems in managing this elk herd and a variety of strategies have been developed to solve problems. The following objectives have been identified:

  • Manage the North Cascade elk herd using the best available science.
  • Increase elk population numbers to about 1,450 animals in the Nooksack unit and 200 in the Sauk unit and approximately 1,950 for the entire herd area.
  • Promote expansion of this herd into potential range south of the Skagit River, in the Sauk unit.
  • Reestablish tribal and non-tribal hunting seasons.
  • Increase public awareness of the elk resource and promote viewing and photographic opportunities.
  • Manage hunted elk units for post-season bull ratios consistent with the statewide plan (currently greater than or equal to 12 bulls per 100 cows) in combination with overall bull mortality rates of less than or equal to 50 percent.
  • Minimize elk damage on private property.
  • Encourage the forest service, state, and private timberlands to maintain current elk habitat capability.
  • Preserve and enhance critical elk use areas.
  • Develop diverse public/private partnerships to improve habitat and the management of elk.

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

Prioritized Expenditures 1st year 5 years
Establish reliable population estimates jointly with tribes.
$7,500.00
$7,500.00
Herd composition surveys (jointly with tribes)
$12,000.00
$60,000.00
Improve precision and accuracy of elk harvest data collection.
$5,000.00
$25,000.00
Augment elk into GMU 418 (Nooksack) and 437 (Sauk) jointly with the Tribes.
$48,400.00
$88,400.00
Maintain and advocate current research activities:
1. Movements and habitat description study
$30,000.00
$30,000.00
2. Advocate nutritional ecology study
$0.00
$0.00
3. Landscape habitat evaluation
$5,000.00
$10,000.00
4. Genetics study
$5,000.00
$5,000.00
Preserve critical elk winter range on private lands
$20,000.00
$500,000.00
Enhance habitat quality of the primary elk range
$20,000.00
$80,000.00
Damage program
$5,000.00
$25,000.00
Establish public viewing areas
$0.00
$50,000.00
TOTAL $157,900.00 $830,900.00