The Blue Mountains elk herd will grow on public lands, but not on farmland, according to goals set in a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife plan that’s circulating for comment.
The department estimated last year the southeast Washington herd had dropped to between 4,250 and 4,700 elk after a hard winter. The department hopes the herd will rebound to the previous level, about 5,500 animals.
Fish and Wildlife district wildlife biologist Paul Wik said the department plans to encourage growth on the public land in the herd’s core area, while suppressing elk on surrounding private land. “We do not want to grow elk in the agricultural zone, where damage is a major concern,” he said.
The herd ranges over Asotin, Columbia, Garfield and Walla Walla counties, and dips into northeast Oregon. Almost half the herd’s 3,500-square mile territory is farmland, and damage to agriculture has been a longstanding problem, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The department once received about 10 claims a year from farmers seeking compensation for elk damage. The number dropped to one or two claims after the department in 2012 stopped paying claims under $1,000 and required landowners to share the cost of hiring a crop adjuster to assess the damage.
The department says the herd’s population peaked in the 1980s at roughly 6,500 elk. The department adopted a management plan in 2001, and the plan proposed this month will replace that when final. There’s nothing dramatic about the new plan. Wik said it reflects how Fish and Wildlife actually manages the herd now.
“We’re going to continue doing what we’ve been doing with this elk herd for the past 10 years,” he said.
The department lists among its accomplishments since 2001 acquiring the 8,500-acre Schlee Ranch and the 10,500-acre 4-O Ranch for wildlife areas.
To keep elk off farmland, the department has hazed animals, built fences, issued kill permits and allowed hunting. The department reports that more than 100 landowners have agreements to work with wildlife managers to prevent damage.
Although the plan is to keep elk off farms, the animals move to where they find food to their liking, Wik said.
“I think we’re doing our best to work with landowners or groups of landowners to resolve their issues,” Wik said. “Whether we’re always successful is probably up for debate.”
The department will hold two public hearings this month and take written comments until Sept. 15. The plan can be viewed online at wdfw.wa.gov/publications/02010/.
The hearings will be:
• 6 to 8 p.m., Aug. 29, Center Place Room 109, 2426 N. Discovery Place, Spokane Valley.
• 6 to 8 p.m., Aug. 30, Dayton Memorial Library, 111 S. Third St., Dayton.
Comments can be mailed to: Blue Mountains Elk Herd Plan, Wildlife Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 2315 North Discovery Place, Spokane Valley, WA 99216-1566; or submitted online to www.surveymonkey.com/r/BlueMtns