WDFW Proposing to Kill 79 More Cow elk Annually in the Packwood area

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife are proposing to remove 79 or more cow elk from the South Rainier elk herd as a part of their 2009-2011 regulation package.  This proposal is a response to less than 15 elk damage complaints received by WDFW in 2008.  The herd is not stable and well below herd objectives.  An increase in cow harvest would result in further declines to the population where annual mortality will exceed recruitment into the population.  The herd will not be able to sustain this loss.  The proposal includes shooting cow elk in August when calves are only 2-3 months old and not yet weaned.  The proposal is neither backed by scientific data nor enough damage claims to substantiate the proposal.  WA State Code, RCW 77.36 is already in place to address damage complaints.  Please support this petition and demand that WDFW act as responsible managers and stewards of the wildlife of our state.   

Between 1994 and 2002, the South Rainier elk herd decreased from approximately 3,800 elk to 1,700 (WDFW 2002).  The most current estimate of the South Rainier elk herd is <1,000 elk (Puyallup Tribe of Indians 2008).  The South Rainier elk herd population objective is 2,400 elk.  In response to 15 said damage complaints in 2008 spanning a 34 linear mile sector between Morton and Packwood,  WDFW is proposing in their 2009-2011 regulation package to allow 49 new antlerless elk special permits to be issued in South Rainier elk herd GMUs annually.  This number is in addition to the ~ 30 antlerless elk harvested annually from the same GMUs as a part of their general season package.  The total number of South Rainier antlerless elk being proposed to be harvested is > 79 elk.  The details of the proposed special permits include:

  • Special Permit for Cowlitz Valley (GMUs 503, 510, 513, 516): 15 antlerless permits August 1 - September 7.

  • Special Permits for Randle (503): 15 antlerless permits January 1-16.

  • Special Permits for Randle B (Area 5053): 15 antlerless permits Jan. 17-30.

  • Special Permits for all 500 series GMUs except 522: 4 any elk.

Details of the general season include:

  • General Season for GMUs 516, 513, 510: Unlimited 3 pt. or better bull harvest for modern firearm and archery.

  • General Season for 503: Unlimited antlerless harvest during muzzleloader and archery seasons.

WDFW wildlife managers have agreed that their Game Management Plan estimate of the South Rainier elk herd size of 2100 elk is outdated and not accurate.  WDFW has also agreed that the current estimate of South Rainier elk herd wintering in the Cowlitz Valley between Randle and Packwood is ~1000 elk (Puyallup Tribe of Indians 2008).    At a public meeting held on October 17th, WDFW stated that even though female elk will be targeted in damage hunts, that the intent of these hunts are not to reduce the population and cull the herd (Sandra Jonker, WDFW).   Jonker also explicitly stated that the herd is not too large. WDFW population objective for the South Rainier elk herd is 2,400 elk (WDFW 2002).   According to the federal wildlife research center, permits of this nature are issued (usually for antlerless elk) to reduce local elk populations%u2026  These reductions are generally of two kinds: local herd reduction, and problem-animal elimination (USDA 1994).  The report also states that special hunts of this nature may provide temporary relief from  damage, but conditions conducive to damage remain (USDA 1994).  Increased female elk harvest as proposed in 2009-2011 regulation package could decrease the herd to a level that it cannot sustain itself.

The South Rainier elk herd is of great value to the citizens of the State of Washington and the residents and property owners in the proposed special permit hunt area.  Washington State Code, RCW 77.36 is in place and is intended to address the damage complaints/problems as described in the annual damage reports.  Therefore there is no need to allocate 49 antlerless special permits to address damage complaints as described in the proposed regulations.  The RCW is an effective mechanism in place to both address damage complaints on a case by case basis and closely manage and control the number of animals lethally removed as a part of those complaints. Property owners in the special permit areas currently experience excessive incidents of hunter trespass on their private property where hunters have shot and wounded and/or killed elk illegally on private property, during the current hunting seasons.  Property owners and residents already have safety concerns with regard to illegal hunting on their property.  Poaching is also of great concern to the local people, and further enforcement support by WDFW is needed.  The vast majority of the local people at the October 17 meeting were in support of Wildlife managers using the best available science in decision making with regard to the South Rainier elk herd.  Regulation must change to incorporate the most accurate and recent biological data, as well as citizens views on the status of the animals being managed.

We the undersigned call on WDFW staff and their Commission to remove the proposed 49 antlerless elk special permits (Cowlitz Valley: 15 elk August 1- Sept. 7, Randle: 15 elk January 1-16, Randle: 15 elk January 17-30, GMU 500 series: 4 elk either sex) in the South Rainier elk herd GMUs.  We oppose the allocation of 49 antlerless permits on this population of elk that is well below population objectives and is declining.  When and if lethal measures are used in response to elk damage complaints, elk managers must carefully utilize the existing RCW on a case by case basis in response to those complaints that are filed.   At the same time we request increased enforcement efforts for the existing hunter trespass, poaching, and safety concerns in the Packwood - Randle area.  We call on WDFW to work with the community and various stakeholders to plan for the future of the South Rainier elk herd.  WDFW must also assist in outreach and education to rural communities on how to live with wildlife.

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