2003 Elk Hunt Caps Remain

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Limits on the numbers of elk hunters in the five zones where caps have been set on tag numbers available will remain the same for the fall of 2003.

In the Selway, Lolo, Elk City, Dworshak and Middle Fork elk hunting zones, the number of tags available has been limited by action of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. Meeting in Pocatello October 3-4, the Commission voted to retain those caps at the same levels for next year as they were this fall.

Caps on tags were established to bring herds back into line with Commission guidelines for healthy elk populations.

The Commission decided to stay with the status quo in the Middle Fork Zone but with the provision that biologists do aerial counts in Unit 27 again this winter. The condition of the Unit 27 elk herd has been a particular concern to the Commission because adult bulls appear to be in decline even though yearling bulls have increased substantially in recent years. Commissioners began requiring last year that bull elk in Unit 27 have brow tines to be legal for shooting.

Commissioner Fred Wood noted that bull elk hunting regulations have been changed for the Middle Fork Zone nearly every year since elk hunting zones were established. He suggested that keeping the rules the same for two or three years would allow biologists to learn what factors may be at work. Those factors could include the brow tine requirement, wolf predation or other reasons for changes in herds.

Salmon Region big game biologist Tom Keegan said in his report to the Commission that there are more elk in the Middle Fork Zone than there were 15 years ago but that the zone has traditionally had a low density of elk and low productivity compared to other areas of Idaho. The number of elk taken in the zone spiked upward in the mid-1990s and has since declined to the 20-year average. Cow numbers are meeting Fish and Game objectives while bull numbers are somewhat below objectives but stable.

Keegan noted that higher numbers of cows make the bull:cow ratio look worse in the Middle Fork Zone. Calf numbers are low but fires in recent years should improve habitat conditions. He added that wolf predation is a factor in losses and in the behavior of elk.

He said a 21 percent reduction of hunters would be necessary to increase bulls in the zone and that a 41 percent reduction would be required to bring bull numbers up to objectives. Surveys of tagholders show hunters do not want steep reductions in tags available, he added.