Farmers will be able to charge handpicked hunters for coming onto their land to shoot an elk in the the Upper Skagit Valley in northwest Washington, according to a deal between the state Fish and Wildlife Department and Skagit County officials.
An optional access fee, set at whatever level the farmer wants, will compensate landowners for their time and trouble, the county’s senior deputy prosecutor, Will Honea, said April 18.
Fish and Wildlife regional director Amy Windrope said she wants to end concerns that the department will force landowners to allow strangers on their property to shoot the elk. She also said she hopes to ease acrimony between Fish and Wildlife and the county over elk management.
“The county and state are moving collaboratively to resolve this situation,” she said.
A large portion of the North Cascades elk herd occupies farmland in the valley. Fish and Wildlife and Indian tribes have installed fences and hazed elk to get them back into surrounding hills, but the problem is getting worse, according to farmers, and county and school officials.
County commissioners passed a resolution this month calling on Fish and Wildlife to give landowners more leeway to shoot elk. The department issued 66 damage-control permits between July 1 and March 31, resulting in the harvest of 23 cows and seven bulls. The shootings are meant to scare the other elk away, not control the population.
Although not unlimited, more permits could be issued without threatening the stability of the herd, Windrope said. The county and Fish and Wildlife have not agreed on a specific number. The department is not currently issuing permits because elk are calving, but will resume July 1.
Landowners can’t sell the permit, but Windrope said she checked with the department’s counsel and confirmed landowners can charge for access to their land. They also will be able to choose the hunters, she said.
Some farmers say they are hesitant to get damage-control permits because they come with too many conditions, including giving up control over who actually comes onto their land to shoot an elk.
Skagit County Farm Bureau President Bill Schmidt said removing elk might take years, but the agreement between the county and state goes in the right direction.
“I think it will be helpful. It will be one tool to help solve the problem,” he said.
Fish and Wildlife and tribes nurtured the herd by limiting hunting and importing elk from Mount St. Helens between 2003 and 2005. The elk were released in the hills, but some have moved into the valley, where they found lush fields and no threat from hunters.
Honea said there are plenty of hunters in the area eager to have a chance to shoot an elk.
He said busy farmers should be allowed to pass along the permits to hunters of their choosing. “They don’t have the all the time in the world to shoot elk, butcher elk, package elk,” he said.