Sunlight elk, which migrate to Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley in the spring, are birthing an average of 13 calves per 100 cows. Of those, there are about three to four yearling bulls per 100 cows, said Gary Brown, regional wildlife …
Limited-quota elk hunting will take place in the Sunlight area during the fall of 2010 due to low birthing rates, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission decided Thursday.
Sunlight elk, which migrate to Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley in the spring, are birthing an average of 13 calves per 100 cows. Of those, there are about three to four yearling bulls per 100 cows, said Gary Brown, regional wildlife supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Cody.
The Wyoming average is 30 to 40 calves per 100 cows and seven to eight yearling bulls per 100 cows, Brown said.
“Obviously it is a herd in significant risk and in trouble,” Rep. Colin Simpson, R-Cody, told the commissioners.
The Sunlight-Crandall elk working group, founded in February, recommended to a limited-quota season for 2010.
But Simpson said going to a six-point-or-better-bull season instead would help outfitters. He noted that a six-point-or-better season improved calf-cow ratios in East Kootenays Bay, British Columbia.
Most of the people who submitted written comments — 124 of 137 — agreed with the working group.
Simpson said predation in Lamar Valley is “shockingly high.”
According to the Yellowstone 2003-05 study, in a calf's first 30 days, 69 percent died. Of the 69 percent, 94 percent were killed by predators. Bears killed 69 percent, wolves, 12 percent and coyotes, 11 percent.
Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, has often led the charge to retain a large wolf predator zone, where wolves could be shot on sight.
“I'd rather be up here talking to you about hunting seasons with wolves and grizzlies,” Childers said, “but I don't guess I will.”
Wyoming management of wolves is still tied up in court and grizzly bears, although delisted in 2007, are not hunted in Wyoming at this time.
But Lamar carnivores can't explain low pregnancy rates.
The drought may have caused stressed plants to be lower in nutrition, Brown said. If cows aren't getting adequate sustenance, they won't get pregnant.
Cows in the Sunlight herd of 1,700 elk have a 59- to 73-percent pregnancy rate, while the non-migratory Heart Mountain herd, numbering 2,000 to 2,500, have a 85- to 95-percent pregnancy rate.
Heart Mountain elk visiting hay fields below their mountain retreat may explain the greater gestation rate, but the true explanation for the disparity may be revealed when the Absaroka Mountain elk study data is compiled in 2012, Brown said.
For the fall 2010 season, the number of rifle and archery hunters will be limited to a around 200 in elk hunt areas 50 through 53, Brown said. That includes the Sunlight, Crandall and Dead Indian Creek areas and the Beartooth Mountains.
Non-resident elk licenses in Wyoming total 7,250. Of those, 32 non-residents will be allowed to hunt in areas 50-53.
Tim Hockhalter of Cody, who served on the working group, said the other option considered, six-point-or-better bulls, would have afforded more opportunities to hunt. There would be an unlimited number of licenses for six-point-plus bulls.
Harvesting an elk is not the point of hunting, it is experiencing the outdoors. “And that is what it is all about,” Hockhalter said.
Six points or better would actually reduce the number of elk harvested. If it is limited quota, licensed hunters will take an elk, Hockhalter said.
“Try something new in Wyoming besides limited quota,” Hockhalter said.
Brown said it is not carved in stone. Limited quota could be changed in the future.
If the recruitment increases to 20 to 30 per 100 for at least five years running, the department could up the limited quota number or return to general licenses, Brown said.
Commissioner Clark Allan favored limited quota.
“The problem we have was not created by hunters killing too many elk,” Allan said. “The change that has happened is too many predators in the system.”