Washington State Elk Herd Plan: Blue Mountains Elk Herd

Category: Game Management and Conservation

Published: June 2018

Pages:

Author(s): Paul A. Wik, Mark Vekasy, Jerry Nelson, Kevin Robinette, Scott McCorquodale, Pat E. Fowler, Frederick C. Dobler

Executive Summary

The Blue Mountains Elk Herd Plan is a step-down planning document under the umbrella of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (the Department) 2015-2021 Game Management Plan (WDFW 2014). This plan is intended to define issues and identify objectives and strategies for Blue Mountains elk herd management. These objectives provide guidance to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Tribes, Department cooperators, landowners and the public. Priority management activities are identified and will be implemented as funding and resources are available.

The Blue Mountains elk herd is one of ten herds identified in Washington State. It is an important resource that provides recreational, aesthetic, cultural, and economic benefits to the people of Washington and adjacent counties in Idaho and Oregon. The Blue Mountains elk population appears to have peaked in the late 1970's and early 1980's at an estimated 6,500 elk and started declining in the late 1980's, continuing through about 2000. Currently, the elk population is estimated to be between 4,250 and 4,700 and has been declining for the past 2 years. The population had been stable for the previous 5-7 years.

The Blue Mountains elk herd has been managed with a spike bull general season since 1989. Branch-antlered bulls are harvested under a special permit system. This harvest structure corrected an earlier problem of delayed breeding due to low numbers of mature bulls and has led to post hunt bull:cow ratios of >20 bulls:100 cows, where before1989, management averaged 4.6 bulls:100 cows. Many mature bulls are now available for recreational harvest as well as for wildlife viewing.

Managing agricultural damage associated with this elk herd is a continuing challenge, in many cases limiting the allowable size of local populations. Adaptive measures have been applied with some success, increasing landowner tolerance of elk and permitting larger numbers of elk to be maintained.

The primary management goals for the Blue Mountains elk herd are:

  • Preserve, protect, perpetuate, manage, and enhance elk and their habitats to ensure healthy, productive populations, ecosystem integrity, and Washington's biodiversity.
  • 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.
  • Manage elk for a sustainable annual harvest.
  • Manage elk and elk habitat to minimize human conflicts and agricultural damage.
Specific elk herd and habitat management goals, objectives, problems and strategies are identified in this document. These are priority objectives that address specific issues in Blue Mountains elk management. To accomplish each objective, strategies have been developed. The Blue Mountains elk herd objectives are:
  • Maintain the Blue Mountains elk herd post-hunt estimate at 5,500 (+/- 10%) while maximizing opportunity for recreational harvest within the constraints of other objectives. Increase the number of elk in GMU 169 (Wenaha) and GMU 175 (Lick Creek) to achieve additional recreational opportunity. Maintain all other core area elk subpopulations at current levels. Limit elk numbers in GMU 145 (Mayview), GMU 149 (Prescott), GMU 163 (Marengo), GMU 178 (Peola), and GMU 181(Couse) to mitigate damage (below the levels described in Table 3).
  • Maintain or improve the level of precision of Blue Mountains elk population estimates.
  • Use recreational harvest to maintain bull elk populations with a diverse age structure and post-hunting season bull:cow ratios near 25 bulls:100 cows, (range of 22 - 28). Maintain a target of 10% prime age (> 5 yrs. of age) bulls within the post-hunt bull subpopulation.
  • Use adaptive management to keep the number of elk-caused damage claims filed to fewer than 5 per year.
  • Maintain full staffing of enforcement in the Blue Mountains area and publicize the use of emphasis patrols to prevent poaching.
  • Once each biennium invite the Nez Perce Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to meet and discuss implementation of the Blue Mountains Elk Herd Plan.
  • Cooperate and collaborate with Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, and Walla Walla Counties to implement the Blue Mountains Elk Herd Plan. Discuss elk in meetings between Department Staff and County Commissioners as necessary.

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

 

 PRIORITY EXPENDITURES  Current Annual Expenditures  First Year Needs Estimate Five Year Needs Estimate 

 POST SEASON SURVEYS

 $50,000  $50,000  $150,000
 LANDOWNER/ELK CONFLICTS  $67,000  $150,000  $750,000
 ELK FENCE MAINTENANCE   $30,000  $30,000  $150,000
TOTAL  $147,000  $230,000  $1,050,000