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Elk numbers down after harsh winter


Elk counts are in. According to Bruce Sterling, FWP Wildlife Biologist, Hunting District 121 has seen a slight decline in elk numbers.

This year, Sterling tallied 1,468 elk in comparison to 1,586 last year. He stated that although this is a difference of 118 elk overall, it is not too concerning and could be a product of surveying error.

When broken down, the numbers reflect 1,144 cows versus 1,260 last year. Calves came in at 218 this year in comparison to 164 in 2017.

Lastly, 61 spike and 39 brow-tined elk were counted versus last year at 86 and 57 respectively, giving a total of 100 bulls for the 2018 survey and 143 for 2017. There were 6 elk placed in the “unclassified” category due to the inability to determine age or gender.

Sterling clocked just over 15 hours in the air surveying valley floors and side drainages counting elk.

“Typically, the bulls are located at the side drainages,” Sterling stated. He commented that these areas still contained snow, and where snow was melted, green vegetation was lacking due to the late winter, possibly contributing to a lower bull total.

Elk reach population stability when a “recruitment rate” of 21 to 22 calves per 100 cows is reached, Sterling stated. His current year’s calculations, considering elk born in June 2017, show a recruitment rate of 19. In contrast, 2017 had a rate of 13.

Sterling attributes these lower rates to longer, harsher winters.

“It is really nice to see the numbers go up, I would like to see them higher, but it is getting better,” Sterling said.


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