Elk Plans Available for Public Comment

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is now accepting public comments on draft management plans for both the Mount St. Helens elk herd and the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area, which lies within the elk herd’s home range.

The draft plan for the elk herd outlines proposed strategies for managing the state’s largest elk herd, which includes an estimated 13,000 animals in four counties. Issues addressed in the draft plan range from managing the size of the herd to making area habitat improvements.

The draft plan for the wildlife area sets out future management strategies for 2,744 acres purchased by WDFW in 1990 and managed primarily as an elk winter range below the western slope of Mount St. Helens. The draft plan addresses forage, fertilization, soil stabilization and other habitat issues, along with public use of the area.

"Both of these plans are designed to set a clear course for public management of these resources," said Steve Pozzanghera, deputy assistant director of the WDFW wildlife program. "It only made sense to give people a chance to review them both together, since elk are such a prominent feature of the wildlife area."

Both plans are scheduled for completion before the coming winter, when harsh conditions take the heaviest toll on elk, he said.

The draft elk herd management plan is available on the department’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/game/elk/sthelens.htm. The draft plan for the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/sthelens/manage.htm. Hard copies of both draft plans can also be obtained through the mail by contacting the department at Wildlife Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091.

The public comment period for both draft plans extends through July 15, 2006.

In conjunction with the public comment period, WDFW wildlife managers have scheduled two public meetings to answer questions people may have about the two draft plans. Those meetings are scheduled:

  • June 21 from 6-9 p.m. at the Cowlitz County PUD, 961 12th Ave., in Longview.

  • June 28 from 6-9 p.m. at the Water Resource Education Center, 4600 SE Columbia Way, in Vancouver, Wash.

One new policy proposed in the herd plan is to reduce the size of the overall herd to about 10,000 animals over a period of several years, Pozzanghera said. WDFW is proposing to accomplish that goal by expanding hunting opportunities for cow elk.

"The herd appears to be at – or near – its limit, both biologically and in terms of human acceptance," Pozzanghera said. "By reducing the size of the herd, we hope to reduce the competition for forage among the remaining animals."

The draft plan for the wildlife area also calls for change in management policies designed to improve conditions for wintering elk, Pozzanghera said. Starting this winter, the draft plan calls for closing the wildlife area to public access from Dec. 1 through April 30 to minimize disturbances to the elk that winter there.

"Elk are easily spooked by human activity," said Pozzanghera, noting that the change in policy was supported by the department’s Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area Citizens Advisory Group. "Those disturbances can interrupt foraging and require elk to expend valuable energy at a time the animals can least afford it."

The Mount St. Helens elk herd is one of 10 herds in Washington state. Since 2001, WDFW has finalized management plans for six of those herds and is continuing to work on the remaining four "as staff time and agency budgets permit," Pozzanghera said.

"The purpose of these plans is to provide site-specific management direction for each herd, beyond that provided in the department’s statewide Game Management Plan," he said. "Elk, like all wildlife, are a public resource and we encourage people to become involved in helping the department chart a management course for herds."