MORTON (September 28, 2008) – The Puyallup Tribe of Indians is opposing a proposed expanded hunt on the fewer than 1,000-animal herd. To decrease the number of human and elk interactions, the State of Washington is proposing an expanded hunt on antlerless elk along state Route 12 between Packwood and Morton. An expanded harvest on the South Rainier elk herd could cause the weak elk population to crash. The herd’s target population is more than 2,100, according to the tribal and state co-managers.
The Puyallup Tribe is one of the tribal co-managers of the South Rainier herd. Tribal hunters harvest less than 10 percent of available elk in the total South Rainier herd. “There is already enough harvest on this herd,” said Barbara Moeller, wildlife biologist for the Puyallup Tribe. “The elk population in the Cowlitz Valley is too small to support more hunting, especially antlerless hunting.”
Since 2003, the Puyallup Tribe has taken the co-managers’ lead in monitoring and studying the South Rainier herd. The tribe recently completed a four-year effort to develop a more accurate method of estimating the herd’s size.
“Information on the herd that we’ve gathered points to a population that is much smaller than previous estimates,” Moeller said. “The herd can certainly sustain hunting, but we should err on the side of caution. Once you reach the point where an elk herd can’t sustain itself, you’ll see a very dramatic population crash.” The tribe has also placed VHF and GPS collars on a study group of elk and plans to compile a more comprehensive report on the herd.
“Elk trampling a garden is not a good reason to doom an entire herd,” said Fred Dillon, the tribe’s Natural Resources Policy Representative. “These decisions should be based on clear scientific evidence, not public relations.”
The State is required by its own guidelines to pursue non-lethal means first in response to problem animals. “It looks like their first proposal was to expand hunting,” Dillon said.
“Instead of more hunting, a better tactic would be to protect elk habitat so the animals have plenty of room and food when they come down from the hills in the winter,” Moeller said. The tribe has taken the first steps in creating an elk reserve in the valley by purchasing 45 acres of bottom land for elk.
“This is an elk herd that needs more habitat, not more harvest,” Dillon said. “The best way to ensure the health of this important population is to make sure there is enough food and space for them to live.”
For more information, contact: Barbara Moeller, wildlife biologist, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, (253) 841-0377. Emmett O’Connell, information officer, NWIFC, (360) 528-4304, [email protected]