Meeting reviews hard-to-draw hunt areas and wildlife damages
Casper – On May 9, the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee met to discuss several topics impacting agriculture across the state. The purpose of the meeting was to begin the committee’s interim work.
During the meeting a range of topics were discussed with in depth conversations regarding hard-to-draw deer, elk and pronghorn hunt areas and elk population management and control.
Hard-to-draw hunt areas
Wyoming Rep. Jeremy Haroldson provided some background statements on hard-to-draw hunt areas for deer, elk and pronghorn.
“The reality is none of us are guaranteed a tag draw,” he noted. “These hard-to-draw areas of deer, elk and antelope are all on a lottery basis.”
Haroldson shared a story of his father not being able to draw an area seven type one elk tag for a 15-year timespan before he drew again.
He explained he doesn’t want to see hunters lose out on their opportunity to hunt. Haroldson suggested a delayed draw system by saying, “If you drew a hard-to-draw deer, elk or pronghorn tag, there would be a delayed period of time where a hunter could not apply for a hard-to-draw area.”
Further discussion would need to determine the parameters of the change and the way it would work, but he said, “I believe we are at a point where we can clean up a flawed system, and make it where people can more consistently draw without the use of a preference point system.”
Haroldson and Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Director Brian Nesvik have had several conversations regarding the proposed plan and agree it could be viable, but future conversations need to take place with everyone involved.
“I don’t think any one of us knows the perfect situation but together we can find it,” Haroldson noted.
“I hear on a regular basis from hunters – it is a real issue no doubt,” added Nesvik. “One of the things the Wyoming Wildlife Task Force will be tackling before it’s done, is this issue.”
There are a lot of different ideas on how to solve the issue, but one of the ideas with support from hunters is similar to the example Haroldson provided, Nesvik mentioned.
“I think the delayed period idea is one that has merit and support,” Nesvik said. “But there is certainly a number of people who like the preference point or bonus point system.”
He explained the preference point system was originally intended for nonresidents who wanted to hunt deer, elk and pronghorn, but it isn’t working very well.
The WGFD, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission and the Wyoming Wildlife Tasks Force have heard from several ranchers throughout the state with significant concerns in regards to damages from elk populations and elk population management, shared Nesvik.
During the meeting, WGFD Wildlife Division Chief Rick King provided a brief overview of the current issue and recommendations given by the commission.
“We had the opportunity to visit with the Game and Fish Commission and the commission has provided the department some direction to tackle some of these issues,” said King. “We see elk highly distributed across the state, and with this, there has been a distribution change – a lot of elk on private property.”
Through the years there have been a variety of tools to manage elk, with a hunting season structure being one management tool, he explained. Longer seasons, abundant licenses and an active damage program are a few examples WGFD have attempted in an effort to address elk numbers and damages.
In addition, an AccessYes Program has been implemented for a long time and has been successful in some localized spots, he added.
“Our current challenges revolve around this distribution of elk and private property damage concerns,” he noted. “The commission has directed us to go back and look at some of the tools we currently have in place and see if we can improve those to better address our elk management challenges.”
One of the first things the commission has directed the WGFD to do is to look at their current damage regulation and see if there are some changes they can make to better compensate landowners when they have an excessive number of elk on their property, he explained.
They also recommended the WGFD look at their depredation season regulation.
“In addition to our normal hunting seasons, WGFD has a depredation season regulation which allows the chief game warden and commission to set some very specific seasons in some very specific areas to address elk numbers,” King explained. “We have not used this tool often in the last 20 years, primarily because of the way it is written – it really needs to be updated in order to make it easier for us to implement.”
A public comment period will be open this summer on the depredation and damage regulations, and WGFD will present the comments and findings to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission in September, he continued.
Going forward, the most challenging issue will be addressing private property owners who aren’t negatively affected by large numbers and have no interest in having the herds managed, Nesvik said.
“For Fiscal Year 2021, the WGFD had 40 elk damage claims and paid out $358,000,” said King. “Elk are about a third of the WGFD damage payments – they are a big chunk.”
“At the end of the day, we have the responsibility to manage Wyoming wildlife,” concluded Nesvik.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.