Management objective, Strategy will attempt to control elk populations in Laramie Peak area
A new strategy for controlling elk populations in the Laramie Peak area will begin Nov. 21 with a pilot project managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD).
WGFD Wildlife Management Coordinator Darryl Lutz says the project came together a few months ago in August, when Lee Knox was hired as the Hunt Management Coordinator for the Northern Laramie Peak Hunter Management and Access Program, or HMAP.
“With the landowners, it really came together in the last month,” he adds.
Elk population numbers have been above management objective in the Laramie Peak herd unit for several years, even though the WGFD says they’ve worked closely with landowners on management. In an area with a population objective of 5,000 elk, Lutz says the rough estimate of the actual population is 10,000 elk.
“The program provides a new opportunity for hunters to access private lands to harvest a cow elk,” says Knox, who will work with landowners to identify areas where the elk are congregating on private lands, and who will then help point pre-selected hunters to those locations. “We’re trying to place hunters where the elk are to give them the best opportunity to harvest an animal.”
According to the WGFD, Knox will not serve as a guide, and will not necessarily accompany hunters in the field.
“Other states have started hunter management programs similar to ours, and they’ve had some success, so we copied their concept and are making an attempt to increase elk harvest,” says Lutz.
The HMAP effort isn’t technically a part of the Private Lands, Public Wildlife program, but Lutz says it is an extension of WGFD efforts to increase hunter access and manage big game populations toward objective.
HMAP also isn’t a license issuance program. “We will only use the licenses we already issued for the 2010 season,” notes Lutz. Hunt Area 7, which is primarily the La Prele Creek drainage south of Douglas, has 4,450 issued licenses for 2010, while the adjoining Hunt Area 19 has 700 licenses. Those are the two areas targeted by HMAP.
The program will run through Jan. 31, 2011 and is open to antlerless elk hunting for people with valid elk area 7 type 1, 4, 6 and 8 elk license. Each three-day hunt period has a limit of 15 hunters, and Lutz says half of those hunt periods have already been taken, and that December is full.
All applicants will be required to attend an orientation session on the first morning of their hunt, and after hunters have selected an available time period they will be able to obtain permission and vehicle identification slips and ranch rules.
“We believe the harvest we’ve gotten the last couple of years has at least dampened population growth, and, based on previous statistics, we’ll probably harvest around 2,500 head of elk this year,” states Lutz.
The WGFD has already worked closely with the landowners participating in HMAP through previous population control efforts, and Lutz says he thinks the landowner community in the area has become “at least a little bit comfortable with the access program already in place.”
“These landowners already have a pretty close relationship with local Game and Fish personnel, and I think there’s already a level of trust,” says Lutz.
However, Laramie Peak area landowner Richard Cross isn’t convinced the new HMAP program is the key to controlling area elk numbers. In his opinion, the WGFD is trying to gain more control of hunting.
“They want the hunters to ask them to hunt, instead of asking the landowner directly,” says Cross, who hasn’t yet put his property into the program, in part because he’s already leased his hunting rights.
He says he sees a potential problem in the HMAP program is having the public come back the next year, thinking the same rules apply. “The hunters will get permission from the Game and Fish to hunt where the Game and Fish thinks there’s elk, and the second year they’ll be back, saying they got permission from the Game and Fish to hunt on the land, and they won’t ask the landowner first.”
Cross says that’s a common problem with the existing WGFD walk-in areas. “Many landowners have signed up for those, and they’ve haven’t worked out, so they quit them, but the next year the people come back. As a landowner, we can’t keep them out once we let them in. They think once a walk-in area, forever a walk-in area, and I think that same thing will happen with this new program.”
“If they really were sincere about getting elk numbers down, they’d intensify the season and make it shorter,” states Cross of the WGFD. “Right now they have a five-month season that scatters the elk out, and they can’t acquire permission to get on some places.”
“I think the Game and Fish has too much power,” says Cross. “They keep wanting to give the public more and more rights, which erodes the rights of the private landowner.”
However, Lutz says the key to managing the Laramie Peak elk herd, like others in the state, is continued cooperation between the WGFD and landowners.
“We’ve worked closely together in the past, and now we’re trying something different. If it works, we might try it in a different part of the state, and again in the same area,” says Lutz.
Come the end of January 2011, harvest numbers will be in, and both the WGFD and landowners will know whether the pilot project was a success.
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.