LEWISTON – Elk numbers continue to dwindle in some of north-central Idaho’s legendary big-game country, and the state is considering reductions in elk permits.
The survey conducted in the last two weeks of January by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game counted elk in the Selway and Dworshak zones. It found fewer calves per cows in some areas, an indication of declining herd health.
Biologists said overall populations also have declined in some areas, citing possible causes as wolves, bears and cougars. Fire suppression that has decreased suitable elk habitat and an invasion of noxious plants also are factors, they said.
“The Selway is fairly striking in that there is a real spread of knapweed in there,” Dave Koehler, wildlife biologist for the Clearwater Region, told the Associated Press. “A lot of areas that used to be pretty significant winter range are now gray knapweed skeletons with no elk to be seen.”
Wolves could also be contributing to declines, but biologists couldn’t say for sure how significantly they might be affecting elk populations.
“We don’t have any good wolf data for the Selway,” Clay Hickey, a wildlife biologist with Fish and Game, told the Lewiston Tribune. “It’s a difficult place to trap.”
Fish and Game divides the Selway zone into four hunting units. Of those, biologists found in Unit 17 there were 10 calves per 100 cows, down from the 13 calves per 100 cows last year.
Biologists said a herd should have a ratio of about 25 calves per 100 cows to maintain herd numbers.
“Obviously 10 calves per 100 cows is pretty grim,” said Hickey.
In Unit 16A, biologists found the calf-to-cow ratio dropped from 28.5 in 2004 to 16.1 this year. In Unit 19, the ratio dropped from 26.2 to 24.6. Numbers increased in Unit 20 from 20.2 to 27.1.
Fish and Game estimates there are 4,900 elk in the Selway zone. The department is offering 1,255 elk hunting tags for the area this year, but that number could be reduced in 2008, biologists said.
The aerial survey of the Dworshak zone found elk numbers were stable at about 4,500.