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Washington State Elk Herd Plan: Olympic Elk Herd

Category: Wildlife Research and Management - Game Management and Conservation

Date Published: July 01, 2005

Number of Pages: 76

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

The Olympic Elk Herd is one of ten elk herds identified in Washington. It is located on the Olympic Peninsula, generally north of the Chehalis River and west of Hood Canal. The herd is an important resource that provides significant recreational, aesthetic, cultural, and economic benefits to the people of the state. The current distribution of the Olympic Peninsula elk population is similar to its historic distribution. Based on historical harvest information, elk numbers peaked in the late1970s with a conservative estimate of about 12,000 elk outside of Olympic National Park. Current population estimates are based on a combination of harvest data, telemetry studies, and mark-resight surveys. These techniques yielded a fall population estimate of approximately 8,600 in the Game Management Units (GMUs) surrounding Olympic National Park in the year 2000.

The purpose of this plan is to provide direction for the management of the Olympic elk resource into the future. This is a five-year plan subject to amendment. Before the fifth year, this plan should be updated, re-evaluated, and amended or extended 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 will be carried out as funding and resources become available.

There are three primary goals stated in the Olympic Elk Herd Plan; (1) to preserve, protect, perpetuate, manage, and enhance elk and their habitats to ensure healthy, productive populations, and ecosystem integrity; (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 the elk herd for a sustainable yield.

Management of the Olympic Elk Herd requires close coordination and cooperation with affected Indian tribes, public and private land managers, and the public. A Cooperative Elk Management Group (CEMG 1999) made up of representatives from the Olympic Peninsula tribes and WDFW was established in 1996 in an effort to better manage this valued resource. In view of the declining elk populations as well as the potential for further declines, the Cooperative Elk Management Group worked together with the objective to, "reverse the decline in the Olympic Herd elk numbers and ensure elk populations throughout the Olympic Peninsula are huntable in perpetuity."

Specific elk herd and habitat management goals, objectives, problems, and strategies have been stated in this plan. The descriptive term herd can apply to the overall elk population on the Peninsula or some sub-population of the entire land depending on context. 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 the accuracy of the scientific database for managing the Olympic Herd.
  • Increase elk numbers to a combined GMU population of at least 11,350 elk outside of Olympic National Park.
  • Pursue management strategies and practices that will maintain the proportion of adult bulls in the population consistent with statewide objectives.
  • Work cooperatively with the Indian tribes to implement the Olympic Elk Herd plan.
  • Increase public awareness of the Olympic Peninsula elk resource and promote viewing, photographic, and educational opportunities.
  • Minimize damage caused by elk.
  • Increase and improve habitat where it is a limiting factor on meeting the elk population objectives identified in this plan.
  • Work with landowners to reduce open road densities where road densities exceed management objectives.
  • Work with public and private landowners to enhance elk habitats and protect elk forage in areas heavily utilized by elk during spring green-up.

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

Prioritized Expenditures 1st year 5 years
Aerial elk composition surveys (Pre and post season) $21,000.00 $105,000.00
Population estimation using mark-resight method $0.00 $60,000.00
Elk mortality monitoring $0.00 $60,000.00
Green forage habitat enhancement program $20,000.00 $500,000.00
Road management partnerships $20,000.00 $420,000.00
TOTAL $61,000.00 $1,145,000.00