A Skagit Valley Herald article on an elk hunt east of Mount Vernon and reprinted in today’s Tacoma News Tribune and Seattle Times is drawing quite a few comments in all three papers, on KING5.com, KOMO4.com and at Hunting-washington as well.
Dick Clever’s original story in the Herald on Sunday details how a herd of 70 elk bounced from side to side of cattle rancher Bill Johnson’s field off Wilde Road along Highway 20 the day before as a half-dozen bowmen attempted to legally kill a few animals as Fish & Wildlife enforcement officer Worth Allen looked on to make sure everything stayed on the up and up.
(Allen’s comments on the scene, “This is not hunting,” has been attacked by some hunters as showing a lack of support by the department.)
The elk are there because the Nooksack herd has rebounded from a low of around 300 animals as recently as the early 2000s to around 700 or 800 today. The population has grown since the Point Elliott treaty tribes and WDFW airlifted 80 animals from the overpopulated Mt. St. Helens area. Permit hunts were again allowed starting in 2006 and this season featured a general bow hunt from Nov. 1-Jan. 20 for any elk, a hunt that has since been cancelled.
Writes Herald reporter Tahlia Ganser in an article posted very early this morning, “While the hunting wasn’t illegal, many spectators and others, including hunters who heard about the kills, said it was unethical. And it wasn’t what the Department of Fish and Wildlife had in mind when it opened an elk-hunting area roughly bounded by highways 9 and 20.”
She quotes WDFW Game Division manager Dave Ware as saying that “the hunters ‘lacked discretion’ and ‘took advantage of the situation’ though they did not break the law.”
An emergency rule change notice from WDFW, received shortly before 3 p.m. today, reads, “The elk harvest objective for the area has been met and the conduct of hunters has become disorderly and unsportsmanlike.”
(That closure, however, is angering a few tag holders who say season should remain open despite what a few “bad apples” have wrought, a source at WDFW in Olympia says.)
A fuller article by Ganser now appearing on the Seattle Times details how word of the herd on Johnson’s land spread and how hunters reacted.
“The whole thing kind of got out of control,” Johnson tells Ganser.
Photos by Skagit Valley Herald reader Catherine Anstett show the hunt taking place.
Clever’s article states that while the herd’s core range is north of the Skagit, in the mountains, in winter, many move to the lowlands of the Skagit Valley. Some are also making the river bottom their year-round home.
It’s not unusual for elk to live in the lowlands. The behavior has led WDFW to create numerous “elk areas” around Washington as the large animals have increasingly settled near towns and fields.
A big herd lives outside the back door of Northwest Sportsman columnist Dave Workman in North Bend.
AREAS WITH SPECIAL ELK HUNTS HELD IN LOWLAND AREAS OF WASHINGTON. (WDFW)
Unfortunately, as with the Skagit, these lowland hunts are often done in front of the public. Clever writes that “traffic slowed to a crawl on Highway 20 Saturday as curious motorists passed by the scene.”
And as so often happens today, the culling of the excess elk in an unwanted area was not just played out in front of weekend drivers, but has gone big time online as well.
In the Times comments (up to 68 as of 10:44 this a.m.), there are the typical insults to hunters and counter claims of biased journalism.
hipnotic, who lists their hometown as Tukwila, writes:
The guys out there slaughtering these animals trapped in a field , are the braggers at work . You know the guy with all the Cabellos gear , beefy 4×4 with mud tires , that’s kept spotless and of course the numerous tales of hunting odessey’s in high remote mountains passable only by foot . Well the cats out of the bag now George ! You’ve been Elk shopping in Monroe , havent you ?
Franklin, Lake Stevens, adds:
Reminds me of the gutless so-called hunters I used to see shooting fawns as they wandered around campgrounds. These aren’t men, these are eunuchs. They should circle the pasture and take aim straight across. At least we could eliminate these gutless wonders from the gene pool.Cruel and inhumane and not a sport or a kindness. This garbage needs to be outlawed. Please write to the state game department and let them know what you think of this kind of inhumane slaughter of animals.
Day Trader, Kenmore, says:
I wonder if high-powered bow hunting is the norm for weeding out a large Elk herd in Concrete or just a bunch of bow hunters showing off their new Christmas presents?
red rocket, Seattle, says:
I have been hunting and fishing all my life and have yet to witness a situation like the one in this article. Although it was a legal hunt, the hunters, the farmer, and the WDFW should have done better. I am not pleased.
And ronulus, also in Seattle, adds:
Elk were grazing on these lands for thousands of years before hicks chose to farm it. Why don’t chicken sh##t hunters take their bows and guns and head to Afghanistan, or better yet, hunt each other.
However, some folks do get it, they understand what’s actually going on here, grisly a scene as it is.
I think things would be more clear if the authorities and the article would have labeled this as population management, which is what it was. Hunting and population management are two different things.
PedalPower, Friday Harbor:
Certainly the “cull hunt” on the Skagit farm was not “hunting,” but it was probably necessary, and the meat will not go to waste.
Veritas Maximus, Bainbridge Island:
If this hunt discourages the elk from making a repeat visit, it may be a good thing for all concerned.Wildlife become pests when they lose their natural fear of humans. When humans and wildlife are in the same place, their conflicting interests will lead to conflicts…and invariably the wildlife lose those conflicts.The more that wildlife avoid human areas, the better it is for them.
Now, with that said, we have to leave areas for the wildlife. The insane rapacious development going on everywhere is depleting habitat, and all so Taylor and Buffy can have their McMansion with urban services.
To make things worse, the Taylors and Buffys of the world leave food out for wildlife, thus encouraging them to get close to humans. And the Taylors and Buffys think that it’s cute seeing deer…until the deer eat their vegetation or a deer crashes into Taylor’s BMW.
VM later adds:
The entire reason the elk were there was because the elk decided that human areas were safer for them than the wild where there are cougars.It is better for all concerned if the elk stay in the wild and take their chances with the cougars.Whenever human/wildlife conflicts occur, the wildlife always loses.
It is only made worse by dreamy-eyed urbanites whose knowledge of wildlife comes from Disney movies.
And finally, on the TNT’s comment page, Mcgyver summarizes:
It’s not sportsmanlike but that doesn’t mean it’s not necessary.
The elk are there. They’re not wanted. They’ve become a hazard to highway travel. The guy’s farm is not going to go away (and that’s a good thing, trust me, especially if it’s run well).
Hunters — even when it may not seem very sporting — can take care of the problem, for free, and the elk meat will not be wasted.
I hate to get all preachy, but a lot of those posters could use a good dose of that book, How Sportsmen Saved The World
, that I’ve been going on and on about here and in the January issue.
The harried reporter may not have been able to fold larger wildlife management concepts into his piece, but the book outlines the reasoning behind what game officials are trying to do.
It’s not always pretty, of course. There will be blood when you shoot things. And hunters will take a black eye over this (and as we devour each other).
So there has been a lot of discussion on if the archers should have done what they did, if it was ethical, if it should be condemned, etc.
I guess my comment would be, it all does not matter. Right or Wrong does not matter, perception matters. Conducting a circle hunt by a highway with bows that corners an elk herd in a fenced area along with livestock looks crappy. What happened? Hunters (all of us) look bad, and the state closes the season with a snarky comment about “unsportsmanlike” “hunters”. Validating the anti hunter viewpoint.
My gut tells me we have not seen the last of this. It will have far reaching consequences in terms of new, more complex regulations, reduced hunting opportunities, and lowered public opinions of all hunters. The actions of a handful will impact us all. Image and reputation are important.
I am an archery hunter and I was at the field on Saturday. I hunted the outskirts of the field, with eight arrows in my quiver. The only arrow I fired was the one that dispatched the wounded elk, that was next to highway 20 (mind you it was already riddled with four seperate arrows). It was a disgusting sight for any true-ethical archery hunter to see. I did not want to see the animal suffer needlessly any longer, and neither did the wildlife officer who asked me distpatch said animal. I recieved no meat, no antlers, and no personal gain. Just a sincere “thank you” from the wildlife officer, and I left the scene a very disgusted archery hunter.
We’ve got a call in to Capt. Bill Hebner of WDFW’s North Puget Sound detachment for more, but in the meanwhile, the agency is receiving quite a bit of feedback on the matter, as you can imagine. In addition to the rule change notice closing the elk hunt as of yesterday, they’re also sending out this email:
Thank you for contacting the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding the article below that you pasted in the email. This was actually a general season hunt opened up to the public to reduce the elk herd numbers in this area of the Skagit Valley. Below I am posting the message from our Wildlife Program Manager, her name is Lora Leschner and she had this to say about the entire incident;
“We at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) share your distress over the recent archery hunt activity in that area. Although an archery elk hunt was authorized in the area to control elk damage—and thus was technically legal—the hunting behavior was unsportsmanlike. We at WDFW—along with the vast majority of hunters—support ethical and orderly hunting practices. Unfortunately, this hunt fell far short of those standards.
As a result of the incident, WDFW has closed the archery elk hunt in the area (Elk Damage Unit 4941), effective immediately. WDFW officers are warning hunters that the season is closed.
Elk damage has been, and will continue to be, a community problem in this area. WDFW wildlife managers made an effort to structure this year’s elk hunting season to reduce damage. The hunter conduct that resulted was not anticipated, and is not condoned by the department.
While there will be a continuing need to address elk damage by reducing the number of elk in the area, we plan to conduct future elk damage hunts through a more-controlled permit system, probably limited to graduates of our Master Hunter Program. Master Hunters have advanced hunt training aimed at avoiding a situation such as the one that recently occurred along State Route 20.”
If you have any further comments or questions please feel free to contact the Region 4 Wildlife Program at 425-775-1311.
Wildlife Program Olympia