SVH Editorial: Limited permits for hunting bull elk are equitable

The Skagit Valley Herald (subscription required) editorialized in favor of the plan to hunt 30 bulls in the Nooksack elk herd:

In the ever-narrowing space between human and animal habitat, the resurgence of the Nooksack elk herd is good news, but not without complications.

A combination of disease, habitat destruction and overhunting caused the Nooksack herd to decline from about 1,700 in 1980 to less than 400 by the early 1990s. The resurgence of these magnificent animals is due to the combined efforts of eight tribes acting through the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The rebuilding effort was aided at times by moving elk from overpopulated habitat in the Mount St. Helens area to the Skagit and Nooksack river valleys. Hunting was banned for a decade. Now state officials say the herd has recovered enough — now at about 700 — to allow the hunting of 30 bull elk. Permits will be split 50-50 between tribal and nontribal hunters.

It should be understood that the purpose of rebuilding the herd is not necessarily to provide trophy opportunities for hunters. The state authorizes hunting bull elk for the purpose of maintaining a herd’s balance.

But at a recent meeting, some local hunters criticized the wildlife agency for not taking enough public input before setting the numbers of elk permits for the upcoming hunt. Just how public input would change the scientific data used to set the number of bull elk to be taken is not clear. For many hunters, there will never be enough elk available for the taking.

Nontribal hunters who take issue with the data used by the state to determine the acceptable number of elk permits should offer facts to support their arguments.

The rebuilding of the herd has been carefully monitored and studied since the effort began in the early 1990s. The effort has reversed the population decline, but the numbers are still only about half of what the state and the tribes hope to build up to.

Thus, it would seem logical that a measure of caution would be brought to bear on setting the first Nooksack herd hunt in a decade.

There is still much work to be done. The state continues to negotiate with large landowners like Sierra Pacific, purchaser of the old Crown-Pacific timberlands, to allow access to hunters.

The state also has a responsibility to smaller landowners who have suffered crop damage as elk munch their way on a track between the Skagit and Nooksack valleys. Fair compensation for those losses goes a long way toward building tolerance toward the migrating herds in eastern Skagit County.

Meanwhile, nontribal hunters have a chance at a lottery that will determine which 15 will get permits to hunt the big bull elk. They shouldn’t complain. The odds are much better than Lotto.