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Front Page » April 5, 2005 » Local News » Southeastern Rac Approves Elk Management Plan
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Southeastern Rac Approves Elk Management Plan

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The DWR Southeastern RAC approves a new elk management plan which will increase herd growth.

It is the goal of the Division of Wildlife Resources to maintain healthy elk populations throughout the state. The DWR is seeking opportunities to increase population objectives in individual elk unit management plans to attain a total statewide population objective of 80,000 elk.

At the March meeting of the DWR Southeastern Regional Advisory Council a presentation was made by Jim Karpowitz concerning the elk management plan. After the presentation the Southeastern RAC voted to support the plan.

An update was given concerning bills at the legislature that affected wildlife and the DWR. A bill which looks at eliminating the Department of Natural Resources law enforcement has been sent to an interim committee for further study. If the department adequately addresses the concerns of the legislature, then things will probably remain as they are. The law enforcement took a $210,000 cut in budget this year.

A one time appropriation of $100,000 for bear and cougar depredation was welcomed by the DWR. For watershed rehabilitation and restoration $2 million was appropriated and next year $3 million is appropriated for habitat restoration projects.

For Range Creek an appropriation of $161,000 will enable the DWR to keep a full-time law enforcement person in the canyon each day. One other piece of legislation that concerned the DWR was the sick leave incentive for early retirement. This bill could potentially cripple the division with 20-30- positions eligible for this early retirement incentive.

Derris Jones, regional director for the DWR reported that the big game draw results will be available April 29. Last year total applications numbered 186,000 and this year the DWR received 208,400 applications. In 2004, 145,500 applications were received over the internet and 40,500 paper applications, in 2005, 174,000 were filed over the internet and 34,000 applications came through the mail.

There was an 8 percent increase in limited entry elk applications in spite of an increase in license fees. Applications went from 51,000 in 2004 to 55,210 applications in 2005.

Jones also mentioned habitat projects in the area which included soil aeration and sagebrush reseeding at Porphyry Bench. The Emery County Weed and Mosquito Department will also participate in a tamarisk cutting project in conjunction with the DWR. A willow planting project is scheduled for north of Huntington Reservoir and a willow cutting project is scheduled for the Swinging Bridge area on the San Rafael River.

The DWR has fitted 28 deer with radio collars and will track these mature bucks as part of a chronic wasting disease study. Mature bucks seem to have a higher incidence of CWD.

Jones also mentioned the nuisance bear problem and their attempts in bear behavior modification. Production of cubs through the drought has been spotty, but more cubs are expected this season. The pronghorn population should skyrocket and fawn production is expected to rise due to better range conditions.

A video was shown at the meeting on repairs to watershed and riparian areas. Areas restored included fire destroyed areas.

Terry Ekker from San Juan presented their proposal for habitat projects. He said they have met several times in San Juan County with livestock producers and wildlife enthusiasts. They want to address concerns with the elk population. They advocate an aggressive habitat restoration approach. They proposed adding four additional bull tags to San Juan County landowners and the proceeds from the sale of these tags would be used for habitat restoration projects.

Elk Management Plan

The elk management plan was developed by a 14 person advisory committee commissioned by the Wildlife Board to revise the statewide elk management plan.

The total herd size objectives from all elk unit management plans is currently 68,400 elk. If local committees, regional advisory councils and the Wildlife Board approve increase in herd size objectives on specific elk units to a total of 80,000 elk, it would represent a 17 percent increase in the statewide elk herd size objective.

They developed several strategies to reach the objective.

They will also work to achieve an average age of harvested bull elk within established objectives on all limited entry units to ensure a balanced and diverse age structure of the bull segment of the population. The average age of harvested bull elk on most limited entry elk units is currently at or above objectives. Increased hunting opportunity will be created by managing within the objectives on all units.

They will work to maintain a minimum post-season ratio of 15 bulls per 100 cows or 12 bulls per 100 antlerless on all "any bull" units. Work will be done to maintain elk habitat throughout the state by protecting existing critical elk habitat and mitigating for losses due to human impacts. Loss of critical elk habitat will need to be minimized to achieve population objectives. Mitigation is essential for loss or degradation of all critical habitats due to human impacts.

The quality of forage and vegetation on 100,000 acres of elk habitat with emphasis on calving habitat and upper elevation elk winter range will improve by 2010.

The goal for recreation management is to provide a diversity of high-quality hunting and viewing opportunities for elk throughout the state and to maintain a diverse hunting program for elk that allows for both general season and limited entry hunting opportunities. The plan also works to increase opportunities for hunting of mature bulls on units with limited entry permits without sacrificing quality.

Elk viewing opportunities will also be increased while educating the public concerning the needs of elk and the importance of habitat.

Don Peay from the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife spoke in support of the project, they would like to see a one year experimental program for San Juan. Eric Grover, land owner and rancher in San Juan County said he has battled to get elk removed in the past and now supports the increase in habitat project which he feels will benefit the landowners. "Let's get after it," said Grover.

Joel Bayles, sportsman, said he liked the idea of a one year trial of the plan. "We need conservation, we need habitat. The money could be used to help build ponds and restore ponds to hold water. I agree, I hope it can be accomplished." Charlie Tracy, livestock producer, thought it was a good idea to raise money for habitat projects and to be active. He mentioned several areas where pinyon/juniper have encroached on habitat for wildlife and livestock.

A San Juan stockman, said he believes an important partnership is being developed and he's proud to be a part of it. He sees the project as setting an example for the rest of the state.

RAC members wondered about the value of four landowner permits. It was estimated that $60-80,000 could be raised from the permits. They also wondered who would control the project. Habitat projects are being looked at on BLM, forest and SITLA lands.

Council member, Jordan Hatch said it is a great idea, but could set a precedence across the state. Other areas are in just as much need of habitat projects as the San Juan. He would also like to see the project implemented on the Manti.

Jim Gilson, council chairman, said pilot projects are often tried in some areas before being taken statewide and it would be a good idea to try it in San Juan to see if it works out. Karpowitz, said the CMU program started small and has turned out to be a great program. Lyle Bayles, council member said the situation in San Juan County has been ugly. There have been fistfights between landowners and sportsmen. "It has been an ugly situation," said Bayles. He stressed the importance of these user groups sitting down together in a cooperative way and hashing out a plan. The San Juan group also met with state officials to decide whether the proposed project could be accomplished this year.

Karpowitz doubted the project could be accomplished in 2005, but felt it could be ready by 2006, as revisions in code would have to be addressed to allow this project to take place. Karpowitz said it is commendable that San Juan is agreeing to more elk, because 20 years ago he was involved in putting the first elk in San Juan County and the project was not greeted favorably.

The landowner permit numbers are set in the fall. State law says a committee must be formed if setting new objectives. Karpowitz said it would be difficult to do right now, but doable for 2006.

Lyle Bayles said the San Juan unit has too many bulls per cow. Hatch expressed concerns that San Juan might be trying to build the herd before the habitat is there to sustain a growth in the herd. One of the proposals also included not harvesting any antlerless elk on that unit this year. Gilson asked the question if there was room there now for more elk and the answer was no.

Karpowitz said they can try to get it through this year, he wouldn't get in the way. Gilson pointed out the cow numbers will be set in April's meeting.

Karpowitz said you must follow the rules or change the rules.

One council member said with the severe drought cattlemen became frustrated with continued cuts on AUMs on forest and BLM lands, but not any reductions in wildlife numbers were seen. He sees the San Juan project as an opportunity to work together so both groups can have 100 percent of alloted AUMs. He doesn't want to see a delay in the project. They need the permits to raise funds for the habitat projects. "I have never seen a rule without exception as far as wildlife is concerned," he said.

Peay said we have a governor who wants to get things done and a legislature that passes and acts upon major laws in 45 days so why can't things be done in a timely manner. He sees the RAC process as cumbersome, and wants to see the project started.

Lyle Bayles made a motion to send the San Juan proposal onto the Wildlife Board so if feasible the project can begin this year. If it cannot begin this year, then do what it takes to have it ready for 2006. The original motion passed after an amendment to add the Manti this year by Hatch failed to be seconded.

RAC member, Drew Sitterud said he would like to see Emery County added to the project for 2006 and that motion passed with one opposing vote.

The Wildlife Board was briefed on the San Juan proposal at their meeting last week.

In the interim between the Southeastern RAC and the Wildlife Board meeting, it was decided to put together a proper committee with all the needed entities including the forest service and the BLM. The Wildlife Board is receptive to the concept, but the guidelines must be followed. A proposal will be worked out and taken through the RAC process for possible implementation in 2006.

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