Clearwater Elk Herds Grow

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Recent winter big game counts show continued elk herd improvement in parts of the Clearwater Region where elk populations have been a major concern for several years.

Idaho Fish and Game big game manager Brad Compton noted that not all Clearwater units are showing strong growth. Herds in Units 10 and 17 are still not bouncing back the way the department and hunters would like to see, he said.

Elk increased in Units 8 and 8A from 1,455 in 1997 to 2,064 this year. Calf:cow ratios indicate good news for herd growth here. A calf:cow ratio of 20 to 24:100 provides for a stable population. In Unit 8, the current ratio is 54:100. The ratio is 34:100 in Unit 8A and 28:100 in Unit 16A. Calf recruitment has been low in recent years in 16A, so the new count represents a turnaround. Recruitment remains low in Unit 17 where the ratio is 15.9:100.

Calf recruitment has improved in some Clearwater units over the course of the last three to four years, Compton said. Hunter numbers were restricted through zone caps and other methods after elk numbers dropped in the mid-1990s. He also attributed the increase to efforts by the department and outfitters to raise the black bear and mountain lion harvest in certain units and the continued work with the Forest Service on habitat improvement. Elk need young forests to prosper while most of the Clearwater forests are maturing following the high elk number decades that came after huge fires in the early twentieth century. The Clearwater elk herds were considered the best in the country until the last decade.

Better elk numbers in Units 11, 11A, 18 and 13 will allow increased hunting permits this year, Compton noted.