Dividing the elk herd unit into back and front range herds was discussed. Back range is defined as the backcountry where fewer hunters have the wherewithal to tread. Front range is where hunter access is easier.
Fifty percent of area 61 to area 60 in the Thorofare is in the backcountry. Group member Curt Bales, a South Fork rancher, said he did not see how it could be split to front and back country herds.
“We need to be more honest about what’s going on in those areas next to the park,” said group member Chip Clouse, representing Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.
Clouse was alluding to locations like Crandall (area 51) where migrating elk are preyed on by bears and wolves.
The population objective is 5,600, but a 2011 count puts the number at 7,443, according to Doug McWhirter, Game and Fish wildlife biologist.
However, despite the high count, calf-cow ratios in some areas are low.
In area 55, there are 18 calves born to every 100 cows. In area 56 it is 35/100; area 58, 63/100; area 59, 48/100 and area 60 is 28/100. In Yellowstone’s northern herd it is 7/100. Yellowstone’s southern herd is 26 calves per 100 cows, according to McWhirter’s 2011 data.
Bears preying on spring calves have been documented in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley.
In the Clark’s Fork herd, it was 35/100 in 1995 and dropped to 24/100 in 2010. It was 26/100 in 1995 and 23/100 in 2010 in the Jackson herd, according to a January handout.
Predator control is outside the group’s purview, but they can recommend it to the Game and Fish Commission, said the group’s facilitator Dennie Hammer. Hammer retired from the department earlier this year, but will remain the group’s facilitator until the group makes its 2013 elk hunting season recommendations to the commission.
It is also not the group’s charge to inform the federal government of predation, Hammer said.
The general consensus was to table any predation issues and revisit them in the future if there was time.
Steve Brock, representing North Fork Citizens for Sustained Wildlife, wanted a level playing field between resident and non-resident hunters.
In area 55, 70 percent of the elk are taken by non-residents.
Theresa Lineburger, Thorofare outfitter, said she could show areas that had five times more residents than non-residents.
In 2011, non-residents took 155 branch bulls, four spikes and four cows in the Thorofare. That same year residents took 27 branch bulls and three cows, said Tim Metzler of Powell Tuesday.
Some outfitters are motivated by money, not wildlife preservation. Resident hunters wish to preserve elk and other wildlife for future generations, Metzler said.
Resident hunters should not be at odds with outfitters that take some non-residents into the back country, said Lee Livingston representing Cody outfitters.
“We don’t want to become each others’ enemies,” Livingston said. “We’ve got enough stuff out there that’s against us.”
Livingston’s base camp is in area 55 on Jones Creek near Yellowstone. More opportunities exist there for resident than non-resident hunters, he said.
In northwest Wyoming, non-residents, with or without guides, have more success taking mule deer and elk. “They have an alloted amount of time and they hunt hard,” McWhirter said.
Based on his observations, residents don’t try as hard, Bales said.
Like small cities, outfitter camps crowd the Thorofare, Metzler said.
Wyoming owns its elk. “And the people of Wyoming should get a better shake,” Brock said.
Residents aren’t excluded from the Thorofare. If outfitters quit the Thorofare, there is no guarantee more residents would hunt it, Lineburger said.
Seasons could be extended to allow residents the opportunity to harvest elk migrating from the Thorofare to lower, easier access front range land, Bales said.
Keith Dahlem, who has lived on the North Fork since the 1950s, offered some historical context.
After landfills in and near Yellowstone were closed in the 1970s, Dahlem said, the grizzly bear population accustomed to fetching an effortless dinner at those dumps suffered. But by the early 1990s the bruins were once again proficient elk predators. Wolves returned in the mid-1990s and so elk had more predation plus increased human hunting pressure. Dahlem said the Game and Fish should have foreseen declining elk population and began addressing it 20 years ago.
“It’s too bad it got so extreme,” Dahlem said during the group’s break.
The issues are complicated and members of the group are from differing backgrounds, but they are working together to hammer out recommendations, said Mike Healy from Worland, representing district five for the commission.
“If we take care of our wildlife there’ll be some for all,” Metzler said.