Tribes criticize policy on elk hunting

A recent archery hunt gone awry near Concrete has tribal wildlife managers in Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties criticizing the state’s policy of selective hunting of elk for herd control.

In late December, a group of hunters cornered, shot and killed elk in a fenced pasture near Highway 20 in the upper Skagit River valley.

Property owners in the area had complained that elk were trampling fields, knocking over fences, damaging crops and creating traffic hazards, state Fish and Wildlife Director Phil Anderson said in a recent statement about the archery hunt.

Selective hunting seasons or damage-control hunts are scheduled to help keep elk herds out of populated areas and encourage them to return to the forest, he said.

Now the archery elk hunting season in the area is closed until next winter. While the hunters’ actions broke no laws, they violated the state’s Hunter’s Code of Conduct, some hunters have said, by failing to show respect for wildlife and consideration for nonhunters. Some of the elk sat bleeding to death by the side of the road.

Damage-control elk hunts are a management tool that should be used only as a last resort, regional tribal officials said.

In a statement released Wednesday by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Point Elliott Treaty tribal officials said there are better ways to keep elk herds from damaging property.

For example, the Tulalip and Stillaguamish tribes have established two 6-acre parcels on private timber land in Skagit County where elk herds can feed. Invasive plants were pulled out and vegetation was planted for elk food. One parcel near Baker Lake already has provided food for more than 20 elk.

Damage-control hunts take down mostly cow elk, harming efforts of the state, tribes and nonprofit groups to rebuild regional elk herds elsewhere. In addition, the selective hunts provide only short-term relief from elk damage, said Todd Wilbur, chairman of the Inter-tribal Wildlife Committee of the fisheries commission.

Snow drives the animals down to the valley to forage. Most of the herd’s winter range has been fragmented and lost to agricultural and residential development. Tribes favor acquiring property for elk habitat to address the problem, Wilbur said.

Anderson said the state will join the tribes in seeking other ways to address elk damage in the area.

“The future of hunting in this state depends on hunters who behave appropriately, consistent with this recognized code of conduct,” Anderson said. “It is clear that the inappropriate behavior of a few can jeopardize hunting for the many who respect their sport and the tradition of hunting.”

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