New National Elk Refuge hunts begin

New National Elk Refuge hunts begin

Managers of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming, working with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department have authorized new hunts for bison and elk on the refuge this fall, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.

The antlerless elk hunt in the southern unit of the refuge will be the first time that hunters using limited range weapons (bows, shotguns or muzzleloading rifles) are allowed to hunt in the area that is known for its wildlife viewing. Both elk and bison have found the refuge to be a safe haven and have taken to moving into the refuge under the cover of night in order to avoid hunters on the periphery. The result has been increased populations of wildlife requiring supplemental feeding that increases the risk of disease, primarily brucellosis.

The bison hunt, an expansion of an existing hunt in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, began on September 15. Managers believe that expanding the hunt to include refuge lands will improve bison distribution, reduce potential disease transmission, minimize damage to essential wildlife habitat and reduce human-animal conflicts. There are currently 1,200 animals in the herd that utilizes the elk refuge, a population that has increased by 15 percent since 1990, primarily because the bison have taken advantage of the supplemental feeding intended for the elk.

"The spread of disease and habitat damage are key issues for the refuge," refuge manager Steve Kallin noted. Bison have been a factor in determining the onset and duration of supplemental feeding of elk each year because of their consumption of standing forage. The loss of forage results in an earlier feeding season, concentrating elk for a longer period of time. "The longer we have elk on supplemental feed, the greater the costs and impacts to wildlife and their habitat," Kallin explained.

The elk hunt, which began on October 13, is targeting herds predominantly moving down from Grand Teton National Park into the southern end of the refuge. The elk only move through the small corridor where they can be hunted after dark, which minimizes the amount of time they are vulnerable to hunting. The result is animals that stay in the "safe zone" of the refuge for extended periods of time, causing an increase in the need for supplemental feeding.

"We're hoping to make those animals more vulnerable to harvest," said Tom Reed, deputy manager of the elk refuge. "The primary purpose is to create disturbance, to preclude those animals from camping out down there. We don't expect a huge harvest."

The elk hunt will have low hunter densities with 5 tags available the first week and 10 week-long permits each week until the end of November unless target numbers are met earlier.

October 07, 2007