PACKWOOD — The South Mt. Rainier Elk Herd would benefit from expanded protection and restoration of their winter range, according to a recent study by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.

The study can be found here.

The study brought together almost a decade of radio telemetry and Global Positioning System data collected by the tribe. “This is the most in-depth look of this herd we’ve ever had,” said Barbara Moeller, wildlife biologist for the tribe. The study tracked the herd’s migration throughout their range over eight years, detailing what habitat the elk prefer.

The study also points to a possible solution to the increased number of elk damage complaints in the past several years, by giving the elk more room to roam. The non-migratory portion of the herd – the group that stays close to lowland winter habitat year round – is more acclimated to development. “That the elk are getting used to being close to people makes it difficult for both the elk and the communities along the Cowlitz River,” Moeller said.

The tribe has objected to state-authorized special hunts in response to property damage by elk. “To plan for the sustainability of the herd, we need to utilize the best available science to drive our management decisions,” Moeller said. Culling and expanded damage hunt areas, such as WDFW’s current proposal to expand GMU 503 (a special damage hunt area) to the southeast into the heart of critical winter range, are short-sighted responses that don’t address the bigger picture of planning for the future of the herd.

“We have used our data to identify critical winter habitat areas along the Cowlitz River valley and now it’s time to sit down at the table and seriously plan for meeting our goals and objectives for the herd,” Moeller said. “With other elk herds, the state has taken alternative measures other than hunts, such as by erecting elk fences, land acquisition, and conservation easements.”

“Ultimately, we are interested in using a holistic approach to managing the herd by incorporating sound science with tribal goals of planning for future generations and integrating local values and needs for elk and wildlife,” Moeller said.

The tribe has restored more than 300 acres of winter habitat in the Cowlitz valley and has started an elk reserve with 45 acres of bottom land.

The Puyallup Tribe has been leading monitoring efforts for the South Rainer herd since 2003. Study results have been shared with state wildlife co-managers so that the information can be integrated into
future management plans.

“All the partners working for the elk – the tribes, the federal, local and state governments – need to work together to plan for the future of the herd,” Moeller said. “This research will bring us closer to gaining a greater understanding of local elk behavior and how they use the landscape.”

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For more information, contact: Barbara Moeller, wildlife biologist, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, (253) 680-5521 or barbara.moeller@puyalluptribe.com. Emmett O’Connell, information officer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4304 or eoconnell@nwifc.org