A couple of months ago, I had the chance to review the data provided in the Ministry of Forest Lands and Resources Kootenay Elk Management public survey. It was interesting to say the least. I’m a huge advocate for surveys such as this because it does give the average hunter a voice. The vast majority of hunters don’t belong to any club or organization and these types of surveys allow hunters to express their own opinions on game management issues. In addition to what the Clubs provide, the data collected gives even more useful information to Wildlife Managers when assessing future regulations and objectives.
I recognize that any bit of data is subject to interpretation by the reader, but I thought there was a real desire from hunters for a change in direction in certain aspects of wildlife management and there were two key areas which stood out for me.
1. Many hunters submitted responses indicating that they had a preference for more quality elk hunting in the future. That could mean different things to different people. Some possibilities may include:
A. A desire for higher elk numbers in our region which would create more opportunity for all hunters.
B. Supporting more stringent regulations governing elk hunting which may provide more “elk on the hoof”over the long term, especially Bulls.
C. Supporting more access restrictions to reduce pressure on elk herds(less access means less hunters and a better quality hunt for those that care to work harder to get where the elk are).
2. Respondents also indicated they wanted a more aggressive approach adopted by the Ministry when it comes to managing predators and in particular, wolves. There was little doubt the majority of respondents favoured this direction for future management.
I contacted biologist Tara Szkorupa with the Ministry of MFLR to see what conclusions they arrived at when they compiled the results of the survey/questionnaire and how they may use the results in years to come. In fairness, I told her most of my thoughts first, which you just read. The following is her response to my email.
“The results from the Kootenay Elk Management Plan Public Survey will be used in conjunction with engagement with First Nations and stakeholders, existing ministry policies and relevant biological research. We can’t say that the survey reflects the views of a ‘majority’ of hunters, because we have a relatively small sample, but it does help provide us valuable feedback. Together with other information sources, this will help inform and improve management in the region.
Regarding key conclusions, I agree that hunt quality was very important for the majority of hunters. While hunt quality was defined differently by different respondents, putting meat in the freezer was still an important reason for hunting.
We are currently working on updating elk population targets for the region, in consideration of the objectives identified by stakeholders and through the public survey. Future hunting regulation proposals will be informed through this process, while aligning with established population objectives, and work has already begun on the next regulation cycle (2016-18).
Survey respondents were very concerned about wolf predation and impacts on elk populations. However, while the Province’s wolf management plan allows for targeted action to protect threatened wildlife populations, Provincial policy does not support predator control to reduce wolf populations for the purpose of enhancing populations for hunting.
When considering how to manage wolves, wildlife managers must also consider biology in addition to the perspectives of hunters. For example, research in the East Kootenay has shown that cow elk survival was not impacted by wolf predation (humans were the main cause of mortality, through hunting, road/rail mortality, etc.), and recent research elsewhere in North America found that predation by bears and/or cougars on calf elk was generally more significant than wolf predation. This has surprised many biologists and stakeholders.
However, the high importance of predator management for many stakeholders has raised this as a priority. Regional staff are currently working on carnivore objective setting, assessing regulation change proposals, identifying monitoring programs and planning for future adaptive management to help ensure a healthy predator-prey dynamic in the region.”
Tara Szkorupa, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations
F.J. Hurtak is the author of the books Elk Hunting in the Kootenays and Hunting the Antlered Big Game of the Kootenays available at selected retailers in B.C. and Southern Alberta.. All profits go to land for wildlife or habitat restoration..