Washington State Elk Herd Plan: Willapa Hills Elk Herd

Category: Game Management and Conservation

Published: November 2014

Pages: 75

Author(s): Brock Hoenes, Pat Miller and Frederick C. Dobler

Executive Summary

The Willapa Hills elk (Cervus elaphus) herd is one of ten herds identified in Washington State. The Willapa Hills elk herd area consists of portions of Regions 5 and 6, and is located in the southwest corner of Washington bounded roughly by State Highways 8 and 12 to the north, Interstate Highway 5 to the east, the Columbia River to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. This herd is an important resource that provides many ecological, recreational, aesthetic, cultural, and economic benefits. Current distribution of the Willapa Hills elk herd is consistent with its historical range; however, localized changes in elk use and movements have occurred.

The purpose of the Willapa Hills Elk Herd Plan is to provide direction for managing the Willapa Hills elk herd. This plan is subject to amendment and should be updated, reevaluated, amended, and extended as new information becomes available. The Willapa Hills Elk Herd Plan will serve as a valuable reference document and provide management guidelines for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (Department), Tribes, agency cooperators, landowners, and the public. Priority management activities will be carried out as funding and resources are available.

The Willapa Hills elk herd was not actively managed prior to creation of the State Game Department in 1933. In the mid-1930s Pautzke et al. (1939) reported elk populations had, for the most part, been extirpated from areas north of the Willapa River, but were thriving south of this region. When industrial timber management practices peaked in the Willapa Hills elk herd area during the 1950s, the herd responded with dramatic population increases, and the area became a popular elk hunting destination. The winter of 1968â€"1969 caused heavy losses, but the Willapa Hills elk herd recovered during the early and mid-1970s (Kuttel 1975). Since then, the Department believes the population has remained relatively stable at the herd level, although localized changes in density have occurred in association with changes in habitat. Today elk occur throughout the Willapa Hills elk herd area, although their distribution is not uniform.

The Willapa Hills Elk Herd Plan consists of three primary management goals: (1) preserve, protect, perpetuate, and manage elk and their habitats to ensure healthy, productive populations; (2) manage elk for a variety of recreational, educational and aesthetic purposes including hunting, scientific study, subsistence, cultural and ceremonial uses by Native Americans, wildlife viewing, and photography; (3) manage elk populations for a sustainable annual harvest.

This plan identifies management priorities that need to be addressed to effectively manage the Willapa Hills elk herd and achieve the three primary management goals. It also identifies management objectives and a variety of strategies to address each priority. The Department will work collaboratively with Treaty Tribes, other governmental entities and the public to achieve the following management objectives:

  1. Implement a standardized and statistically valid survey protocol that will generate reliable estimates or indices of population size for the Willapa Hills elk herd by 2015.
  2. Implement a standardized and statistically valid survey protocol that will generate unbiased estimates of herd composition (i.e. age and sex ratios, age structure, etc.) for the Willapa Hills elk herd by 2015.
  3. By 2015, develop a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for managing and tracking Damage Prevention Cooperative Agreements, associated permits, and resulting harvest in the Willapa Hills elk herd area using the Department’s contracting system.
  4. Keep the Willapa Hills elk herd at its current level by maintaining harvest levels during general hunting seasons between 900 and 1,300 elk.
  5. Maintain pre-season populations within a range of 15 to 35 bulls per 100 cows and/or post-season populations within a range of 12 to 20 bulls per 100 cows. In addition, manage for a post-season bull population where mature bulls make up 2% to 10% of the bull population.
  6. Determine the distribution, prevalence, and cause of hoof disease in the Willapa Hills elk herd area and collaborate with affected Tribes and the public to identify potential management options. The Department will inform affected Tribes and the public of the Departmentfs most recent findings as they emerge.
  7. Continue to strive to mitigate elk damage and minimize the number of elk damage complaints.
  8. Identify at least one landowner or land management agency every two years that is willing to work, or enter into a cooperative agreement, with the Department to maintain, enhance, or increase elk habitat in the Willapa Hills elk herd area.
  9. In collaboration with affected Tribes who have a Hunting Co-Management Agreement with the Department, work cooperatively with timber companies to maintain hunter access.
  10. Increase public awareness of the elk resource by creating an informative brochure similar to the Audubon Societyfs Great Washington State Birding Trail brochure that identifies routes and key points along those routes that provide the best opportunity to observe and photograph elk in the Willapa Hills elk herd area.
  11. Cooperate and collaborate with Treaty Tribes to implement the Willapa Hills Elk Herd Plan and to coordinate season setting and herd management in traditional hunting areas.
  12. Work cooperatively with Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge (JBH) staff and affected tribes to limit the number of elk on JBH to <20 individuals.

Spending priorities have been identified for the first five years following adoption of the Willapa Hills Elk Herd Plan. Achieving spending levels will be contingent upon the availability of funds and creation of partnerships. The recommended annual prioritized expenditures for the Willapa Hills elk herd are as follows:

Priority Expenditures

Management Objectives

1st Year Cost

5 Year Cost

Population Monitoring Objectives 1 and 2 $40,000 $200,000
Disease Monitoring Objective 6 $200,000* TBD
Landowner/Elk Conflicts Objective 7 $10,000 $50,000
Hunter Access Objective 10 $75,000 $375,000
Watchable Wildlife Objective 11 $0 $5,000
Total $125,000 $630,000
* At the time of writing, a 2014 supplemental budget proposal has been submitted to the legislature that includes $200,000 for hoof disease monitoring in the Willapa Hills and Mount St. Helens elk herd areas for the 13-15 Biennium. How those funds will be appropriated between the two areas has not been determined; nor has an estimate of future management costs.

Suggested citation

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2014. Willapa Hills Elk Herd Plan. Wildlife Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, WA. 67 pp.

Draft documents

Draft documents are provided for informational purposes only. Drafts may contain factual inaccuracies and may not reflect current WDFW policy.