Quinault Indian Nation Improving Elk Data To Better Manage Herds

TAHOLAH (June 25, 2004) — Elk have always been important to Native people in western Washington. Even today, for some Quinault Indian Nation families, elk meat provides 50-90 percent of the food needs for a year. “In the past, elk meat was traded extensively between tribes throughout the Northwest,” said Justine James, QIN tribal member and Timber/Fish/Wildlife cultural resource specialist. “Some tribes specialized in making tools from elk antlers, or in preparing elk meat in a special way that was desirable for trade.” Elk meat was dried and prepared for consumption and trade, the tallow was used as a skin softener, and the hide used for clothing, protective shields, and ceremonial burial wrap. The antlers provided material for specialized tools such as fishing shafts and barbs, knife blades, splitting wedges as well as cosmetics and jewelry, said James.

To better manage the elk population on tribal lands, the QIN has embarked on a new phase of an ongoing study that will provide more detailed data about elk herd populations, their overall health and habitat needs.

As part of the study, an 8-inch, torpedo-shaped radio transmitter is inserted in a captured elk’s stomach by way of the mouth while the animal is sedated. Blood is drawn for health analysis and a tooth removed to determine the animal’s age.

More than 40 elk in different herds are being equipped with transmitters as part of the project. “This effort will give the QIN more detailed data about their elk populations,” said Grover Oakerman, QIN wildlife biologist. While the nation has used helicopter surveys in the past to estimate herd composition; we now will be able to combine those flights with the radio transmitters. This gives the QIN a more complete picture of elk population size, herd numbers, harvest rates, natural morality rates, migration timing, home ranges and identification of critical habitats such as calving areas.”

The internal transmitters have several advantages over radio collars, a more traditional method of electronically tracking. For example, a radio collar can become too tight for a growing bull elk, leading to chafing and possible infection. Radio marking using implants gives a less biased estimate of hunter harvest rates and poaching losses. In the case of poaching, the internal radio is not observable, so the poacher is not able to select for an unmarked animal.

Radio marking elk also gives a more accurate accounting for other forms of elk mortality. For example, if a cougar kills an elk, the internal transmitter signal changes to indicate the animal is dead, and helps biologists find the animal quickly.

There have been other benefits as well. “Through this intense elk capture effort, we’ve already been able to develop some new information about our elk herds. While capturing the elk we kept track of composition of the elk herds we observed. From this effort we have a better estimate of calf production and have been able to determined that we have more than adequate numbers of bull elk for breeding,” said Oakerman. “Also, because of the size of the land base we’re talking about (330 square miles or about 208,000 acres), we’ve also seen distinct differences in body condition between elk caught in various regions of the reservation due to variations of food supplies and habitat.””

That’s part of the secondary factors we will be tracking – critical habitats and opportunities for future habitat improvement.”

This ongoing study was funded by a $75,000 Bureau of Indian Affairs grant and QIN funding. Along with 13 QIN volunteers and staff, the Washington Department of Wildlife provided 11 experienced volunteers that are members of the Kitsap Bow Hunters. In addition biologists from the Makah Tribe and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission assisted with the elk capture and radio transmitter insertion. “We very grateful for all the help we’ve received on this project,” said Oakerman.


For more information, contact: Bruce Jones, QIN natural resources director, (360) 276-8211; Mark Mobbs, QIN environmental protection division manager, (360) 276-8211; Grover Oakerman, QIN wildlife biologist, (360) 276-8211; Debbie Preston, coastal information officer, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501.

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