Elk Survey Report

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Jon DeBerti, Pennsylvania Game Commission elk biologist, today released the results of the recently completed elk survey, which estimates the state's current elk population to be 552 animals. Based on previous research, he noted that the herd should number between 650 and 700 animals by the time the 2003 elk hunting season is held in November.

"Weather made this year's survey difficult," DeBerti said. "The aerial survey took four days to accomplish, rather than the two or three days in previous surveys. Deep snow and ice also hampered groundwork prior to and during the aerial survey work.

"We had a difficult time completing this survey, but I believe that the Board of Game Commissioners and staff will be able to use this conservative population estimate to set the number of licenses for the elk hunt," DeBerti said. "We have decades of population estimates and reproduction and mortality figures on which to base this decision.

"Although this year's population estimate is down from last year, most of the drop occurred in the northwest corner of the elk range, where most hunting pressure has been intentionally focused to bring elk populations in line with the goals outlined in the management plan. The population estimate there of slightly more than 400 animals still is above the management goal of 300 animals in that area."

DeBerti noted that the elk population outside the northwest corner of the elk range - where little hunting pressure has been directed - actually increased, as have elk-human conflicts.

The herd breakdown by sex and age in this year's survey is: 83 branch-antlered bulls; 22 spike bulls; 320 adult females; and 110 calves. Thick vegetation prevented an accurate determination of the sex and age of 17 elk.

Known elk mortalities over the past year were up, totaling 111. A breakdown of losses is: legal harvest, 61; crop damage 17; highway collisions, 11; illegal harvest 8; train, 5; accidental, 2; brain worm infestation, 1; and unknown, 6. Out-of-season elk mortalities have been averaging between six and eight percent for the past few years.

"During the last two decades, crop damage kills and illegal harvest are the two leading causes of mortalities," DeBerti said.

Last year's aerial survey of the elk herd was cancelled due to a lack of snow. DeBerti pointed out that counting dark-colored animals against the white snow is necessary for a successful survey. However, DeBerti noted that having too much snow and wind also is a problem, which the survey team experienced this year.

Elk are found in an 835-square-mile area of Elk, Cameron, Clinton, Centre, and Clearfield counties. The first modern elk hunt was held in 2001, which resulted in 27 elk being harvested. Last year, 61 elk were taken by hunters during the hunting season.