Fewer Black Hills elk licenses for 2012
Brookings, S.D. (AP) – The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission decided to issue fewer Black Hills elk licenses for the 2012 season on Wednesday but stopped short of a moratorium on all antlerless tags.
Commissioners finalized the Black Hills elk hunting season, setting the license levels at 395 any elk and 175 antlerless elk. That's a drop from the 470 any elk licenses and 395 antlerless licenses issued in 2011.
The Game, Fish and Parks Department in its recommendations had requested 260 antlerless elk tags, but commissioner John Cooper asked his colleagues to further reduce that number by 85.
John Kanta, the department's regional wildlife specialist, estimates about 4,000 elk are in the Black Hills, including Wind Cave National Park, and the goal is to boost that number to 5,500.
The elk population was nearing 7,000 around 2004 when Black Hills landowners started complaining about the animals eating grass that would have been going to their livestock.
"With that increase in population, we saw an increase in damage,'' Kanta said.
To combat the increasing population, wildlife officials bumped the number of antlerless elk licenses. Kanta said the best way to decrease the population is to hit the cows that will be putting calves on the ground.
"We set up the decrease in population and we did a good job at it,'' he said.
Wednesday's meeting at Swiftel Center drew a crowd of more than 100 people, but most of the attendees were students from nearby South Dakota State University.
One outdoorsman who spoke during the public hearing, Jim Twamley of Parker, asked the commissioners to prevent the harvesting of cows and changing the any elk tags to branch antler-bull tags. He said most outdoors enthusiasts hunt elk to land a trophy animal, and they'd be willing to forgo shooting females knowing the numbers are depleted.
Last Thursday in Rapid City, nearly 150 people packed the GF&P's Outdoor Campus West to discuss the department's management of the elk and mountain lion populations. Some 40 residents complained that the department has been issuing too many cow elk licenses and not enough mountain lion tags.
During the 2011 Black Hills elk season, 866 licensed hunters harvested 298 bulls and 179 cows, for a 55 percent success rate.
Chris Hesla, executive director of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, said he'd like to see a reduction of cow tags for both the rifle and archery elk seasons, perhaps to zero. But unlike some in the Black Hills who want every mountain lion shot, he urged commissioners on Wednesday to "take baby steps'' when adjusting numbers for the 2012 mountain lion season.
Most of the residents who emailed their comments to commissioners asked them to issue no antlerless elk tags.
Dana Rogers of Box Elder asked for a moratorium on all cow elk hunting this year and for the near future.
"Our elk herds have been absolutely decimated and need a few years to heal and recover,'' he said.
James Czywczynski of Rapid City said that in the 1980s and 1990s he archery hunted elk in Custer State Park when the park likely had more than 1,000 head of the animals. He said that number is probably down to about 300 now, and he urged the commission to issue no antlerless elk permits for 2012 and take aggressive action to rid the park of additional mountain lions.
The 2012 any elk season will run from Oct. 1-31. The antlerless elk season runs Oct. 16-31 and Dec. 1-15.
Commissioners made a slight adjustment to the archery elk season, eliminating 10 any elk licenses from 2011 for a drop to 97 licenses. The breakdown for the 2012 season, running Sept. 1-30 in the Black Hills, will be 82 any elk and 15 antlerless elk.
Licenses for the Custer State Park season, which runs Sept. 15-30, are being reduced from 11 to four any elk. The department said that 10 of the 11 hunters in 2011 got their target, and winter surveys indicated fewer of the animals in the park compared to last year.
The commission eliminated the park's late archery elk hunting season, which last year carried 15 licenses without a single harvest.
The prairie elk season, which covers a variety of territories and dates, will carry a total of 100 licenses, down from 128 in 2011.
It is also allowing one bighorn sheep license in Pennington County and one in Custer County for the 2012 season.