The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has detected the
state’s first cases of a potentially crippling hoof disease in two
Roosevelt elk from a resident herd in Del Norte County.
Treponeme-associated hoof disease (TAHD) – commonly referred to as “elk
hoof disease” – can cause deformed, overgrown and otherwise damaged hooves.
The lesions and resulting deformities are painful and lead to limping,
lameness and even death as observed in other states. When the disease is
severe, elk may become too weak to graze, fight off other infections or
TAHD was first identified in elk from Washington state in the 1990s, but
much remains unknown about the disease. Currently, there is no known cure
TAHD has been documented in elk in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Recent
detections in Oregon’s Douglas County
<https://www.dfw.state.or.us/news/2020/04_April/040820.asp> were previously
the closest to California. TAHD gets its name from a bacterium, *Treponema* sp.,
that is associated with this disease, but other pathogens also may play a
role. Scientists at Washington State University who are experienced with
TAHD confirmed the disease in the two Roosevelt elk from Del Norte County.
It is unknown what impact TAHD may have on elk populations in California or
other states. California is home to three subspecies of elk – Rocky
Mountain elk, Roosevelt elk and tule elk – that together inhabit
approximately 25 percent of the state. In other states, both Rocky Mountain
and Roosevelt elk have contracted TAHD. To date, there are no known cases
of TAHD among tule elk.
While the disease appears to be highly infectious among elk, there is no
evidence that it affects humans. Still, hunters who harvest an elk
exhibiting signs of deformed or damaged hooves should exercise caution and
practice safe hygiene when processing, cooking and consuming the meat.
Hunters also are encouraged to submit hoof samples to CDFW from suspect elk.
CDFW will be working with natural resource agencies in other western states
and academic partners to increase surveillance for TAHD in California, plan
management actions and facilitate research.
Just after sunrise, elk are grazing in a misty field in Washington’s Skagit Valley, an hour and a half north of Seattle.
“It looks like there are roughly 40 animals there,” says Scott Schuyler, a member of northwest Washington’s Upper Skagit Tribe.
These elk are at the center of a conflict that’s unfolding between Native Americans and farmers in northwest Washington. After being nearly wiped out in the late 1800s, the animals are making a comeback in Skagit Valley. Local tribes are thrilled, but the agricultural industry is not.
Schuyler grew up in the suburbs south of Seattle, but, when a court decision reaffirmed his tribe’s right to hunt and fish in the Skagit Valley, his family moved back to their ancestral home.
Schuyler remembers hunting his first elk in 1987, when he was 24 years old.
“I was really proud at the time,” he says. “It’s our tradition, when you get your first animal, you give to your community; you give to your elders. And so I gave most of the animal away.”
But, Schuyler says, some of the Skagit Valley’s farmers and ranchers were not happy that tribal members were moving back, claiming their rights.
Scott Schuyler is a member of the Upper Skagit tribe. He remembers hunting his first elk in 1987, when he was 24 years old.
“I’ve had a lot of firearms pointed in my direction, a lot of lead being shot in my direction,” he says. “I’ve been peppered with birdshot.”
He says he’s had his tires slashed, his fish stolen. He’s gotten death threats on social media.
Schuyler’s tribe and others are sovereign nations that have treaties with the US government that date back to the mid-1800s. Those treaties guarantee their right to hunt, fish and gather. The treaties also grant them a role in fish and wildlife management.
But Schuyler says some residents and some public officials don’t think the tribe should have those rights.
“And [so] it becomes socially acceptable to attack the tribe, tribal members and tribes’ rights,” he says.
Elk damage farms
Not far from where the elk grazed in a pasture in the early morning, Eileen and Randy Good have worked as dairy farmers and cattle ranchers for more than four decades. The Goods both grew up in Skagit Valley.
Now, Eileen Good says, the elk are “making it impossible for us to survive as a farmer.”
She says the elk knock down fences, eat up pastures and destroy crops.
“I figure we have lost like $36,000 a year due to the elk crossing and wrecking the fences all the time,” Randy Good says.
He points to a Skagit County Assessor’s report that says elk are causing $1.4 million of damage in the valley every year. That number relies on farmers self-reporting the damage, but no one doubts the loss is real and widespread.
Bill Schmidt is president of the Skagit Valley Farm Bureau. He objects to any tribal involvement in elk management.
Randy and Aileen Good have farmed in Skagit Valley for four decades. They say elk have damaged their farm and farm equipment.
“I mean, it’s like one percent or less of our population is controlling the management of the elk,” he says, “and it doesn’t seem right.”
Historians say Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest have hunted elk for thousands of years. Still, Schmidt maintains white settlers in the early 1900s said there weren’t many Native Americans in Skagit Valley.
And those who were there, he says, “They were not into deer and elk. They were basically fishermen.”
Historians say that claim is incorrect.
But, for Schmidt, this is about something beyond the specifics of deer and elk and fish.
“They’re claiming all these rights because it’s an easy way to have extra rights,” he says. “I think they should be more forthright and try and be — to me — more American.”
Lately we’ve been hearing from a lot of holier-than-thou types quick to make a distinction between sport and subsistence hunters. Truth is, there’s not all that much difference between the two. Sport hunters and pseudo-subsistence hunters are often such close kin they’re practically kissin’ cousins. I know a lot of hunters, but I’ve never met one who didn’t boast about “using the meat.” By the same token, I’ve never met anyone who openly admitted to being just a sport hunter.
There are a lot of needy poor folk out there these day, including myself, but I don’t know anyone who really needs to kill animals to survive. Like sport hunters, subsistence hunters do what they do because they want to, they enjoy the “lifestyle.” If one thing differentiates the two, it’s that meat hunters have an even stronger sense of entitlement.
But, everyone has a right to feed themselves and their family, don’t they? Well, does everyone—all 7 billion humans and counting—have the right to subsist off the backs of other animals when there are more humane and sustainable ways to feed ourselves? How many self-proclaimed “subsistence” hunters are willing to give up all their modern conveniences—their warm house, their car, their cable TV or their ever-present and attendant “reality” film crew—and live completely off the land like a Neanderthal? Not many I’m sure—at least not indefinitely.
It’s unclear what makes some folks believe they have the right to exploit wildlife as an easy source of protein, but animal flesh is by no means the safest or healthiest way for humans to get it. While a steady diet of decaying meat slowly rots your system, millions of vibrant people have found a satisfying and healthy way to eat that doesn’t involve preying on others.
Editor’s note: Since this story went to press, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided to take up Desautel’s case.
In the early morning hours of an October day in 2010, Rick and Linda Desautel left their hunting camp on traditional Sinixt lands near Vallican, British Columbia, and drove to the steep, thickly forested hills a few miles away. After the road faded to gravel, they turned left at a blue Valhalla Provincial Park sign, and continued to climb. At seven in the morning, Rick spotted a cow elk and a calf down a steep embankment, standing among the shrubs about 100 yards away. They rolled to a stop off the road and crept back toward the elk. Rick raised his Mauser 98 bolt-action rifle, aimed down the hill, and shot the elk.
Six years later, in a courtroom in Nelson, British Columbia, Desautel described his relationship to the area like this: “When I come up here, I’m walking with the ancestors.… It just runs chills up and down me that I can be where my ancestors were at one time, and do the things that they did.” Desautel, a member of the Arrow Lakes Band, descendants of the Sinixt, bent to work dressing the carcass: He pulled out the heart and liver, then quartered the meat.
Linda sweated up and down the hillside, a packboard heavy with a hundred pounds of elk strapped to her back, the climb slippery with frost. After loading up the truck, the two went back to camp to hang up the white cloth game bags, full of meat and spotted with blood. Then they drove until they had cell reception, called the game wardens and told them what they’d done.
The Canadian government had declared the Arrow Lakes Band “extinct” in 1956, after the death of the last known member in Canada. But just south of the U.S.-Canada border, Arrow Lakes Band members were alive and well on the Colville Reservation in Washington, where the Desautels live. The planning behind the hunt had been in the works for years — some would say decades — and it was a strategic attempt to force the Canadian government to recognize the Arrow Lakes Band’s right to hunt and, by extension, its tribal sovereignty.
To the Arrow Lakes Band, what Rick Desautel had done was a ceremonial hunt on land his ancestors had never ceded to the Canadian government. But to Canada, it was a crime.Although the charges eventually brought against Desautel were for hunting, at the heart of the case is something bigger — whether or not Canada will have to recognize the Arrow Lakes Band as a modern First Nation, acknowledging their right to hunt and use their traditional lands. If Desautel loses, it means the Lakes will remain, in the government’s eyes, “extinct.”
THE CONFEDERATED TRIBES OF THE COLVILLE RESERVATION are composed of the Arrow Lakes Band and 11 other tribes from the region, who share a 1.4 million-acre reservation in Washington state. To go forward with the hunt, the tribal council representing the 12 bands had to agree to support it, and the court case they knew would follow. For months leading up to the 2010 hunt, tribal officials spoke with their British Columbian counterparts and with wildlife biologists, explaining their plans. The Canadians continued to insist that Arrow Lakes Band people did not “presently exist” in the province. The tribal representatives, who had expected as much, responded that they were going ahead with the hunt regardless.
Afterward, prosecutors charged Rick Desautel with hunting without a license and hunting as a non-resident of Canada. (Linda Desautel was not charged.) He pled not guilty.
Desautel’s case is unique because the Lakes are, as far as they know, the only First Nation to receive an explicit declaration of “extinction.” But his case, if it succeeds, means that other tribes cut off by the U.S.-Canada border with Aboriginal ties to the land could make a First Nations claim, too, even if their members aren’t Canadian residents. And that would require Canada to consult with those nations if any activity or development could impact their traditional lands. The right to own, use and control ancestral lands is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Canada announced its full support of the U.N. declaration in 2016, the same year Desautel’s case went to trial, as “Canada’s commitment to a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples.”
During the trial, Desautel and other Arrow Lakes Band members listened while experts debated their existence in Canada. The judge ruled in favor of Desautel on March 17, 2017. But the B.C. government has since appealed twice, most recently to the Supreme Court of Canada, which has yet to decide if it will hear the case. (Editor’s note: Since this story went to press, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided to take up Desautel’s case.) During his preliminary hearing, Desautel recalls, an interim court lawyer told him, “You’re going to go to the Supreme Court with this case, you know, but when you do get there, you’re going to be an old, old man.” Well, Desautel laughs now, at 67, “I’m starting to believe him.”
RICK DESAUTEL WAS ABOUT 10years old the winter he went on his first deer hunt. He’d been trapping small animals for years already, rambling the pine woods and grassy meadows around his grandmother’s house in Inchelium, on the Colville Reservation, with his brother Tony. They’d shoot ground squirrels and grouse with a .22-caliber Remington rifle and bring the meat home. But the deer hunt was something else — it was a rite of passage. “When that day comes, it’s mind-shaking,” Desautel said.
Since his dad had died when Rick was young, it was Tony who took him out, borrowing a .25-35 lever-action rifle from the neighbors. The pair pushed through seven inches of snow, up to a ridge about 15 miles from home, when two mule deer jumped out about a hundred yards away. Rick aimed for the buck, but he hit the doe instead, bringing her down. “When it’s your first deer, it’s distributed with the community. None of it is ever kept,” Desautel said. “Everything that you kill is gone; deer hide, deer head, deer hooves, deer meat.” But, he added, you get the honor, “and glory.”
As a former game warden for the Colville Tribes, Desautel is used to testifying in court in cases involving poachers or drug smugglers. As in his everyday life, he’s consistent and unflappable on the stand. He has a deep knowledge of Colville Reservation lands, and has spent most of his life outside: 23 years as a logcutter on top of a lifetime of trapping and hunting. He’s survived half a dozen falls through ice in the winter and getting caught in a beaver trap. In 2006, while still working as a game warden, he shot down a floatplane smuggling $2 million worth of drugs onto the reservation. As a wild animal damage control officer — his current title — part of his job involves removing wildlife, “whether it be bats in your attic, elk in your field, bear on your porch.” At the direction of the tribal council, Desautel also carries out ceremonial hunts for community events. And he’s hunted in Sinixt territory over the Canadian border since 1988.
Rick and Linda Desautel live in a tidy log cabin on 40 acres of land, with a view of a meadow and Twin Lakes in the distance. In August, golden grasses shush in the breeze while sunflowers nod along the road. Linda grew up in Omak, three mountain passes to the west, just over the bridge from the reservation’s border. Now a school custodian, she’s also been a stay-at-home mom as well as a corrections officer. Together they’ve fostered fawns, hawks, eagles and other wildlife. People too; even after raising six kids, they’re always providing for more.
They’ve also been partners in resistance. In 1988, Arrow Lakes Band tribal members got word that the construction of a road near Vallican, B.C., in Sinixt territory, was going to affect Sinixt graves. A caravan of people went to Vallican to block the road; including the Desautels and their kids. In the end, the road was built and the graves relocated to a property called the Big House, which the Arrow Lakes Band bought as a home base in their ancestral territory. But had the Arrow Lakes Band been a recognized First Nation, the result may have been different.
That was the first time Desautel had the chance to talk with a whole community of Lakes people, standing together for a purpose. At the same time, he got to see the lands that generations before him had inhabited. “It infuriated me that people would desecrate graves and stuff like this here, and pick up their bones and move them,” Desautel said. “I said, ‘OK, I’m ready for it. I’ll head up there and see what I can do to stop this.’ And that’s what I did.”
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE HAVE LONGemployed hunting and fishing as a form of civil disobedience. It’s been a critical method for getting courts and governments to recognize tribal nations’ legal rights to land, water and wildlife — even freedom of religion. In the 1960s and 1970s, tribal members in the Pacific Northwest, from the Nisqually Tribe to the Yurok Tribe, were beaten and arrested for salmon fishing in defiance of state laws that violated their treaty rights. Their actions resulted in multiple victories in the U.S. Supreme Court, reaffirming their right to fish. And more recently, in 2014, Clayvin Herrera and several other Crow tribal members shot and killed three bull elk without a license off-reservation in the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. The state charged Herrera with poaching, but a Supreme Court decision in 2019 upheld the Crow Tribe’s rights to hunt on “unoccupied lands of the United States,” in accordance with its pre-statehood treaty with the federal government.
In Canada, important cases testing Indigenous rights include the 1990 decision in R v. Sparrow. In 1984, Ronald Sparrow, Musqueam, was arrested for deliberately using a fishing net twice as long as legally allowed. While lower courts found him guilty, the Supreme Court of Canada found that his ancestral right to fish was not extinguished by colonization and remained valid. “It’s definitely a very common tactic to use in Canada, which raises a lot of interesting questions about having to break the law to get certain (First Nations) rights recognized,” said Robert Hamilton, assistant professor of law at the University of Calgary.
“The vast majority of the province is not covered by any treaty, and so the First Nations there have not given up their rights to the land.”
Desautel is navigating the Canadian court system and the unique histories between Canadian federal and provincial governments and Indigenous nations. Early in Canada’s history, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, tribal nations on the eastern side of the continent signed treaties with the federal government. But as settlers pushed west, that stopped. As a result, First Nations in what is now British Columbia ceded almost no territory to Canadians. “The vast majority of the province is not covered by any treaty, and so the First Nations there have not given up their rights to the land,” said Mark Underhill, Desautel’s attorney. “We’ve been wrestling for an extraordinarily long time to deal with those rights in large part because for many, many decades, the governments of the day, both federal and provincial, simply pretended they didn’t exist — that there were no such rights.”
That began to change with First Nations land claims — when tribal nations pursue legal recognition of their right to land and resources — which set the stage for Desautel. A landmark case brought by Nisga’a Chief Frank Calder in 1973 was the first time that the Canadian courts recognized that unceded First Nation lands exist. Another big change came in 1982, when Canada’s Constitution was amended to explicitly protect Aboriginal rights. That, together with other early court cases, resulted in a modern-day treaty process as an alternative to costly court proceedings. More than 25 treaties between First Nations and the Canadian government have since been negotiated over territory, water and other resources, with more in progress. Many First Nations are not participating, however, instead calling for an overhaul of the process.
Michael Marchand, a former Colville tribal chairman and Lakes tribal member who helped plan Desautel’s hunt, said that the Arrow Lakes Band were concerned that, as other First Nations in B.C. began to make land claims through the courts or treaties, its own claims could get edged out. But before the band could officially assert its ownership over its ancestral lands, it had to re-establish its legal presence as a First Nation.
The core of Desautel’s defense was the evidence that the Sinixt people inhabited the valleys and riversides around the Upper and Lower Arrow Lakes before Canada’s government existed. He and his legal team also demonstrated that their lifeways persisted throughout colonization, as Arrow Lakes Band members, and that they never ceded their Aboriginal rights. It’s been shown in court through Sinixt sturgeon-nose canoes, a main source of transportation before the Columbia River was dammed. It’s been shown through their place-based language and family trees. It’s been shown through the stories of Sinixt culture persisting, despite tribal members being killed by settlers and pressured out of their land, or swept off to boarding schools. It’s also been shown through Canada’s own laws: An 1896 law passed by British Columbia, for example, made it illegal for non-resident Indians to hunt. That is proof, said Underhill, of how many Indigenous people cut off by the border were continuing their way of life despite colonization.
One of the difficulties of the case is how few living tribal elders can speak to that history, because so many from that time have died. Still, the words they left behind remain influential. Shelly Boyd, Arrow Lakes Band facilitator and tribal member, represents Lakes interests in Canada with community members and First Nations. She points to a series of letters that had a strong impact, written by Arrow Lakes members Alex and Baptiste Christian, her husband’s ancestors, and sent to Indian Affairs agents in 1909. The Christians requested that the agents reserve lands around Brilliant, British Columbia, for the Arrow Lakes tribal members. The areas contained graves and were their home prior to settlement. Instead, the agents sold them to someone else, and the bones were eventually churned up under settlers’ plows. “It was a really sad story,” Boyd said. But the mark that they left mattered. “They lived through a time where after all of their work and all of their sadness and all of their pain, they had to leave … but those letters that they wrote, they helped us win this case.”
Desautel is matter-of-fact about the lawsuit, as he is generally about doing what needs to be done. The actual elk hunt itself was routine, much like the hundred or so hunts that came before it. When he turned himself in to the game wardens, he knew they were just doing their jobs. “If I let (the charges) pass, it’s going to go on to the next generation,” Desautel said. “I’m gonna throw out an anchor now. I mean, if it doesn’t hold and I go dragging on through life, my daughter or my granddaughter can come along later on and say, ‘Look here, my grandfather was doing this here. He was up here. He was doing this.’ ”
If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case and rules against Desautel, it would be the final say — period. “If we lose, we’re out of the game, we’re extinct,” Boyd said. Though 10 years younger than Desautel, Boyd knows him from growing up in Inchelium, where their grandmothers were best friends. She sees, and feels herself, what the land means to him. “He is risking something he loves very much.”
Regardless of the final outcome, Desautel will continue hunting in his ancestral lands in the years to come. If he loses, he shrugged, “They’re going to have to put handcuffs on me then.”
THE TRIAL PROGRESSED SPORADICALLY over four months. The early mornings and long days away from home wore Rick and Linda out, and court proceedings were often mind-numbingly boring; Linda joked that the prosecutors sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. In essence, the prosecution argued that the Sinixt people voluntarily left their lands, moving south to become farmers and abandoning their traditional lifeways, thus giving up their rights as a First Nation.
About halfway through the trial, Dorothy Kennedy, a leading ethnographer who documented Sinixt histories in the ’70s and ’80s, took the stand as an expert witness for the government. Despite her past work for the tribe and her conversations with Arrow Lakes elders, Kennedy did not consider the Arrow Lakes Band a First Nation. Nor did she believe that the Sinixt experienced racism from settlers. Instead, she testified about “isolated incidents” of harassment that went “both ways” — because, she said, the Arrow Lakes were Americans in Canada, not because they were Indigenous. In the report she submitted to the court, she wrote that instead of “meekly fleeing settlement … they enthusiastically took up a different lifestyle south of the border.” To Desautel and his team, it felt like a betrayal.
“I grew up knowing I was declared extinct in Canada. As an 8-year-old girl, it’s like, what? Dinosaurs are extinct. It is still really inconvenient for us to exist.”
When Mark Underhill was hired by the Colville Tribe to take on Desautel’s case, multiple senior attorneys told him that they’d never win. But nearly four months after the trial finished, the judge found that Desautel was within his rights as an Aboriginal person to hunt within his ancestral territory. The courtroom, filled with Arrow Lakes tribal members and extended family, erupted in cheers and applause. So far, after two appeals, other judges have agreed with the first ruling. After the most recent one in March this year, from his office in Vancouver, B.C., Underhill called Rick and Linda on the phone at their home in Inchelium, and read the judge’s statement aloud on speakerphone. “(The judge) said some amazing things,” Linda said. “She made me cry.”
As long as the lower court ruling stands, the Canadian government now has a duty to consult with the Arrow Lakes Band concerning activities like logging and hydroelectric developments, or anything else that might impact their rights in the area. But there are also more intangible benefits of Desautel, as the decision has come to be known. “There’s some kind of indescribable freedom to it,” said Boyd. “I grew up knowing I was declared extinct in Canada. As an 8-year-old girl, it’s like, what? Dinosaurs are extinct. It is still really inconvenient for us to exist.”
DESAUTEL AND THE ARROW LAKES BANDare still waiting to hear if Canada’s Supreme Court will take up the case; they could know by the end of this year. Despite the resolute language of the past three judges, the Desautels aren’t assuming they’ll win. “(We’ve) never felt totally confident,” Linda said. “You’re dealing with the government. I don’t care who you are and what country you’re in. Never feel confident of your government, especially Native people. We know.” Still — Rick wants them to take up the case, to have Canada’s highest court affirm his rights.
If the Supreme Court declines to hear the case, it ends in Desautel’s favor. But if the court takes it up, the case could drag on for another year or longer. Already, as Arrow Lakes Band facilitator, Boyd’s sights are set on what comes next for the tribe. They’ve reintroduced salmon to the upper Columbia River for the first time in almost 80 years and resumed canoe journeys using their traditional sturgeon-nosed canoes. Next, they’re planning to re-establish the Sinixt language, Nsyilxcen, in their territory. And every fall, Desautel will continue to cross the northern border to hunt.
“You’re dealing with the government. I don’t care who you are and what country you’re in. Never feel confident of your government, especially Native people. We know.”
The hillside in British Columbia where Desautel shot the cow elk is overgrown now, nine years later — 20-foot-tall white pine, tamarack and western hemlock trees crowd out the view of Slocan Valley below.In late September, not far from there, he explored the steep draws and thick forests of Sinixt lands for signs of elk. Scouting for game with Desautel, the place comes alive even without any wildlife in sight. Faint prints of a bear cub crossing a road. Scat of a bigger bear from the morning, bright with berries. Torn tree bark from where an elk rubbed its antlers two weeks before. Alder saplings stripped of their leaves, a snack for a meandering moose. After a life lived outside, Desautel can read the forest’s early autumn activity like a book he’s paged through a hundred times before.
Desautel doesn’t usually hunt until later in October, when the days are colder. For now, he’s exploring — glassing the countryside with his binoculars, occasionally bugling for elk, searching for a spot that “looks elk-y.” As he hiked back down to his red Toyota Tacoma, the shoulder-high fireweed released its seed tufts like a cloudburst, swirling in his wake. As he drove north, cresting over Strawberry Summit, Desautel looked out at the expanse before him. “This country is so vast,” he said with a note of pride. “I’ve only checked out 1% of 1%, and I’ve got hunting rights as far as the eye can see.”
ELLENSBURG, WA – Hundreds of elk were caught on camera crossing a rural road outside Ellensburg recently, appearing like a furry, brown river flowing across the snowy high desert landscape.
A Puget Sound Energy worker filmed the elk as they crossed a road near the Wild Horse Wind and Solar facility, about 15 miles east of Ellensburg.
Two types of elk live in Washington. The larger Roosevelt elk live mainly on the Olympic Peninsula and west of I-5. The elk in the video are likely Rocky Mountain elk, whose range stretches across the state, from the woods and mountaintops of the Cascades to the grassy deserts that stretch east to Idaho.
Winter is primarily a food-finding season for elk. After the mating “rut” in fall, elk seek out shrubs and grasses to eat before elk calves are born in spring.
Two bull elk fought one another as the pair became entangled in barbed wire, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said. (SBG)
PRINEVILLE, Ore. – Two bull elk fought one another as the pair became entangled in barbed wire, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said.
Biologists managed to free one of the elk but the other died from injuries sustained while fighting wrapped in barbed wire.
The scenario recently played out in the Ochoco Unit of Central Oregon.
“Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Troopers were able to radio dispatch and notify the Prineville field office staff to bring the equipment to sedate the bull elk,” according to ODFW.
And unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.
“Bull elk and buck deer can often become entangled in leftover wire or rope this time of year,” according to ODFW.
If you seen an animal stuck or trapped in a wire, fence or rope, ODFW urges you to contact one of their offices or the nearest state police station.
“Do not attempt to free the animal on your own. An injured or trapped animal may be extremely dangerous,” ODFW cautioned. “And if you notice old rope or wire laying around where an animal may become wrapped up or trapped in it, please remove it if possible.”
Extended hunting seasons for cow elk are being questioned by some Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission members, sparking debate among wildlife managers about the proper steps to reduce the state’s ever-growing elk population.
“We think it’s time for cow-only elk hunting in the general season … in districts significantly over objective,” said Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, at the commission’s meeting on Dec. 7.
“I totally agree,” said Dan Vermillion, of Livingston, who is the chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Case in point
Vermillion pointed to Hunting District 580, on the east side of the Crazy Mountains, as an example of why Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks should go to a cow-only elk hunt in specific areas. He said elk populations for the district are 200 percent over objective. The objectives are based on landowner tolerance.
The problem is that public access to hunt elk along the east side of the Crazy Mountains is limited because there’s only one public access to Custer Gallatin National Forest lands in that area. Some of the private land is leased to outfitters for hunts, or outfitted by landowners. Most outfitters are selling bull elk hunts, usually to out-of-state hunters, for about $5,000. There’s less interest in cow elk hunting by outfitted clients.
So going to a cow-only hunt in the area would essentially be a poke in the eye to outfitters, as well as a blow to their bottom line. It would also be a shot across the bow to landowners, demanding that public access to the elk be allowed or there will be consequences.
“At what point are we as a department going to either change the elk objective numbers or get serious about how to bring these numbers into objective?” Vermillion questioned.
John Vore, FWP’s Game Management Bureau chief, said the department has been serious, using the shoulder seasons to reduce elk populations. Now in its second season, shoulder seasons allow elk hunting mostly on private land as early as August and continuing through February in some hunting districts.
Last year, Vore said the 10 hunting districts with shoulder seasons that lasted to Feb. 15 reached 95 to 96 percent of their total harvest objective, a figure that includes the harvest during the general and extended seasons. But hunting districts like 580, along with a few others, halt the season by Jan. 1, essentially cutting the late hunt in half, he said.
“Sixty percent of those hunting districts with long shoulder seasons met those criteria and met 96 percent of the harvest criteria” despite weather that wasn’t always conducive to hunting, Vore said.
“In order to harvest elk, and harvest a lot of elk, you need to have a season that runs later than the general season,” he added.
The suggestion of a cow elk-only season in some hunting districts didn’t sit well with commissioner Richard Stuker, of Chinook. He said bulls can cause a lot of damage, even on property where landowners allow public hunter access. He also said that raising the population objectives for the number of elk allowed in a hunting district isn’t the answer, either.
“Otherwise, in about five to 10 years we’ll be in the same boat” as elk numbers continue to climb, he said.
According to FWP’s mathematical calculations based on 80 percent of elk being counted, elk numbers have climbed from about 163,000 a year ago to an estimated 176,000 across the state, a nearly 8 percent increase. The actual number of counted elk — not every area is counted — last year was about 141,400 elk, up from almost 130,700. The objective the FWP wants to reach is around 92,000 elk, which would be a 47 percent reduction in the current elk population.
Relying on hunters to reduce elk populations isn’t easy. Last season, more than 113,500 elk hunters spent more than 1 million days afield to harvest 24,500 elk. Only about 12 percent of all hunters were successful, though, because some hunters took two elk.
Vermillion said the extended elk hunting season isn’t only defined by FWP, hunters and landowners. The Montana Legislature also swings a very large stick, one that is often aimed squarely at Fish, Wildilfe & Parks’ forehead.
“The department — unfairly in my opinion — gets beat up by the Legislature for not reaching those numbers,” Vermillion said.
That was one of the objectives of the shoulder seasons, to give landowners a way to thin elk herds outside of the general season. If landowners do not help out by allowing hunter access, and elk populations don’t decline after three years, then FWP would be able to say they tried but were blocked in their efforts by uncooperative landowners.
No matter the reason, Vermillion said not reaching the objectives means the Legislature will be holding FWP accountable.
beat up on all the time.”
Last season, hunts in the state’s 43 districts with expanded seasons increased the harvest of cow elk by 33 percent, Vore said.
“So it is a tool that does work,” Vore said. “But of course, it’s not going to work if we don’t use it.”
Commissioner Shane Colton, of Billings, said he thinks the population objectives for elk are set too low in some hunting districts.
“If we were to manage down to those numbers we would be shot in the streets by hunters, outfitters and landowners,” he said.
Colton called the numbers antiquated and said a “lot of subjectivity” went into establishing the figures.
“I’m still stymied by the idea that we’re hunting elk seven months of the year,” he said. “Who would’ve thought that would happen in Montana?”
He also chided FWP for pushing shoulder seasons as the answer, noting that one week an elk may be worth thousands of dollars to an outfitter and the next it’s “treated like a rodent” to be exterminated.
“I really struggle with the idea that this is where we’re at,” he said.
Vermillion said he would have pushed FWP for an antlerless-only elk season in HD 580, east of the Crazy Mountains, if it weren’t for the creation of a group attempting to solve the public access issue in the area.
“It probably would have been suicide to do it,” he said, but Vermillion has disagreed with legislators and landowners on the topic before, putting himself in the hot seat when his commission appointment came up for renewal before the 2015 Legislature.
Even with the shoulder season hunts, Vermillion doesn’t see how some of the hunting districts can reach the objectives.
“The department will have to prove to me in August 2018 we should continue” shoulder season hunts, he said. August is when the department will finalize the seasons for 2019, which is also a year that the Legislature meets and will closely follow the third season of the extended elk hunts.
Vore told Vermillion and the other commissioners that FWP wants to use the shoulder seasons to “full effect” next hunting season, expanding the late season hunts out to Feb. 15 in hunting districts like 580.
Martha Williams, who is still in her first year as FWP director, said she has heard a lot of the same complaints as the commissioners, but she wants to learn more from the current course the department is on before recommending any changes.
“It’s not whether we revisit the objectives, but when,” she said. “I am paying attention,” but didn’t think it was prudent to make any changes now.
“We need to do something and figure something out or the Legislature will be telling us what to do,” Stuker said.
“I’m not naïve,” Colton said. “I understand why we have (shoulder seasons).
“But I don’t want the Legislature setting our seasons and quotas,” he added. “My preference would not be to expand (the shoulder seasons) all out to Feb. 15. But if we don’t, then the Legislature will say we were on track and you shot us down. It’s just an unfortunate situation for us to be in because there are other tools and other methods than a seven-month elk season that we now have.”
The missing hunter’s pick-up truck (Courtesy Skamania Co. Sheriff’s Office)
STEVENSON, Wash. (AP) — Authorities have suspended the search for a 37-year-old elk hunter reported overdue for a week in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.
Skamania County Sheriff Dave Brown said Saturday night that four days of search efforts haven’t turned up clues to help them locate Joel Presler, of Vancouver. He last had contact with his family on Nov. 11.
Authorities found his pickup truck Wednesday on a Forest Service road in the Forlorn Lakes area.
Nearly three feet of snow has piled up near the truck.
Presler was reported to have been in good health when he went missing and to have hunted in the area for years. Authorities don’t believe he would have hiked in and camped away from his truck.
The sheriff urged caution for family and friends who planned to search for him Sunday.
Four bull elk are silhouetted at dusk on a hillside ridge west of Gallatin Gateway recently.
In addition to shooting bison, tribal hunters near the Yellowstone National Park border have been killing elk.
Hunters from the Nez Perce Tribe have killed roughly 25 elk near Gardiner this winter, according to multiple sources, in addition to dozens of bison. It’s the second consecutive year reports of hunters taking elk have surfaced. The hunters are legally allowed to kill game animals on public land in the area because of a treaty, but the activity has some Gardiner residents ticked off.
Bill Hoppe, a resident of the area, said four elk were recently shot near his house. He said allowing the tribal hunters to kill elk outside of Montana’s regular elk season is unfair to regular Montana hunters.
“They ought to buy tags just like everybody else has to buy tags,” Hoppe said.
A Nez Perce Tribe wildlife official declined to comment, directing questions to the tribe’s executive committee. A committee member could not be reached before deadline.
Hunters licensed through the state and five separate tribal nations hunt bison in the Gardiner basin each year as the animals migrate out of Yellowstone National Park. It’s part of an effort to reduce the number of bison in the park, and it’s used alongside the capture-for-slaughter operations. Prior to this year’s hunt and cull, biologists estimated there were about 5,500 bison in the park. Thanks in part to a large migration, hunters have now taken more than 400 bison.
The five tribal nations hunt there based on rights granted in treaties signed with the U.S. government more than a century ago. These hunters adhere to their tribal government’s hunting seasons and regulations, and aren’t licensed through the state. The five tribes are the Shoshone Bannock Tribes, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Yakama Nation, and the Nez Perce Tribe.
Reports of hunters killing elk instead of bison also surfaced last year, when fewer bison migrated out of the park. Then, too, people pointed the finger at the Nez Perce Tribe.
The hunting of elk near Gardiner has been a touchy subject in recent years. Elk that live there move between Yellowstone and Montana. A count of elk there in the mid-1990s found 19,000. Now, there are about 5,300, and hunting opportunities are more limited than they once were for hunters licensed through the state.
Andrea Jones, a spokeswoman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said that while the state agency works with tribal officials on a number of law enforcement issues — trespassing, driving off the road — they can’t tell tribal hunters not to hunt elk.
“The state of Montana has no authority over the rights of tribal governments to take wildlife negotiated under treaties with the U.S. government,” Jones said.
She said the real issue, though, isn’t whether they have the right to hunt.
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“This is about how a sovereign nation is exercising those rights,” she said.
She said some hunters have been cited for trespassing and driving off the road. But the agency also has ethical concerns unenforceable by law, like how wounded animals are treated, wasted game meat left in the field and relations between hunters and landowners.
State and tribal officials have a conference call each week about hunting in the area, and Jones said the state has raised their concerns to the tribal governments.
“We’ve expressed our concern about that,” she said. “There has not been much change occurring.”
Some have also criticized the way hunters have been killing bison. Bison hunting happens on small pieces of land near the park border, and some have complained of multiple hunters shooting at once and then leaving behind gut piles. Recently, the advocacy group Buffalo Field Campaign posted photos online showing a group of teenagers stabbing a wounded bison as it writhed on the ground.
Fewer elk reside within Yellowstone National Park, but that doesn’t mean tribal hunters can’t hunt them, especially if fewer bison migrate outside of park boundaries. While this is legal under tribal law, many Montana residents – and elk hunters – think it’s unfair, considering that fewer elk mean fewer tags and opportunity for those who hunt within the established elk hunting seasons.
Local resident Bill Hoppe told The Bozeman Daily Chronicle that “allowing the tribal hunters to kill elk outside of Montana’s regular elk season is unfair to regular Montana hunters” though, legally, the state cannot intervene with established tribal regulations.
“The state of Montana has no authority over the rights of tribal governments to take wildlife negotiated under treaties with the U.S. government,” Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) spokeswoman Andrea Jones told The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, adding that MFWP works closely with local tribal leadership on other law enforcement issues, but cannot enforce which big game animals tribal members can hunt.
While five tribal nations (the Shoshone Bannock Tribes, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Yakama Nation and the Nez Perce Tribe) all hunt within the area, following the rights provided to them based upon treaties signed by the federal government over a century ago, the tribe that seems to be under fire is the Nez Perce Tribe – for hunting 25 elk instead of the overabundant bison.
This is an issue because, according to The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the current elk tally counted roughly 5,300 animals – down from 19,000 animals in the mid-1990s. Bison, on the other hand, are plentiful – so much so that there’s an annual cull and capture-for-slaughter to keep numbers manageable. Tribal sustenance hunting helps keep bison numbers in check.
While this is clearly a concern within the state, Jones says that not much change has occurred despite Montana officials bringing up the elk hunting issue during the state and tribal officials weekly meeting. In fact, Jones says that it’s not really about hunting; instead, “this is about how a sovereign nation is exercising those rights.”