Fewer North Idaho families will have elk steaks in their freezers this fall. Two severe winters, plus a growing wolf population, have dramatically reduced elk calf survival rates. To allow the herds to recover, wildlife managers shortened hunting seasons by seven to 14 days. The cutbacks affect archery, rifle and muzzleloader seasons. Jim Hayden, Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s regional wildlife manager, discussed the situation last week.
Q.How many fewer elk calves are you seeing?
A.This year, we counted 12 calves for every 100 cows. We’ve been at a ratio of 40 to 45 calves for every 100 cows. That’s high production and we’ve had that for the last seven to eight years. We want a ratio of at least 30.
Q.How much mortality was caused by wolves, as opposed to the deep snows?
A.Just from winter alone, we know we had some substantial losses. We had more snow than we did in 1996, when there were functionally no wolves, and we still lost perhaps a quarter of the elk that winter. …Where there were no wolves, the calf ratio dropped to the 20s this spring. Where we had wolves, we saw the ratio drop to nine calves per 100 cow elk.
Q.What result will the shorter season have?
A.We’re targeting a 15 percent reduction in the bull elk harvest and a 50 percent reduction in cow elk harvest. We’re trying to rebuild these herds quickly.
Q.How will this affect hunters’ chances of shooting an elk?
A.We take about 3,000 elk per year, which will drop to 2,300 or 2,400 this year. There will be some pretty good hunting. There’s a perception right now that there’s no elk in the woods. I want to assure people that there are elk in the woods, and we’re watching things very carefully.
Q.How have hunters reacted to the season changes?
A.There was a general recognition that we had a problem we needed to address. I think people recognized that we were trying to do it as fairly as possible.
Q.How quickly could North Idaho’s elk herd recover?
A.With the changes we made to the cow season, we could see the numbers come up in a couple of years. There are a lot of questions with wolves in the picture.
Q.How many wolves does the Idaho Panhandle have?
A.Currently we have about 150 wolves. That’s real rough numbers. We’re up to 16 documented packs. The wolf population in the Panhandle is doubling every three years. That won’t go on forever, but we still have potential habitat for more wolves.
Q.Do you hunt?
A.Yes, for most critters. My father was a wildlife biologist in Pennsylvania. I grew up hunting and fishing and helping him in the outdoors.
Q.Do you plan to purchase a wolf tag?
A.I’ll probably buy one and stick it in my pocket.