December 01, 2010
Article by Shauna Stephenson; photography by Henry Holdsworth
“A few years back about 1,200 elk showed up on the Heart Mountain Ranch. Prior to that, Brian Peters, manager of the Nature-Conservancy-owned ranch, had only seen about 100 head. Now, they were eating him out of house and home. ‘It’s been pretty devastating for us,’ Peters says.
The elk were part of the non-migratory portion of the Clarks Fork herd, a herd that is a picture of contradictions. On one side is the non-migratory portion, the portion that is expanding rapidly, cozying up on private land. On the other end is the migratory portion that, unlike its counterparts, is seeing drastic declines in both pregnancy rates and elk calf recruitment, a situation that is leaving researchers scratching their heads about both the causes and eventual repercussions. Stuck in the middle of the mess are the managers who can’t get enough hunters in to manage the portion that needs it because access is limited. Conversely, they have to cut the number of licenses they issue for the areas that have access because elk production in those areas has declined.
In short, there’s no doubt something strange is going on with elk herds in the northwest, particularly in the declining migratory herds, and it’s leaving a lot of people with the same question: Why?”