Wapiti take their time arriving on Elk Refuge
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: November 16, 2012
Wapiti migration toward the National Elk Refuge is still at a trickle, but that’s consistent with what refuge officials have observed over the past five years.
Through Thursday, refuge biologist Eric Cole had officially tallied 80 elk on the refuge. Another cluster of the iconic ungulates that hasn’t yet hit the biologist’s spreadsheets crossed onto the refuge yesterday, spokeswoman Lori Iverson said.
“I saw some on the refuge a little while ago — maybe a line of 30 or 40,” Iverson said while elk-spotting from her vehicle near Antelope Flats. “I feel like I can say there’s not been a lot of activity in terms of elk. We’ve had some come onto the refuge, but they just don’t stay.”
Cole said that elk numbers are in line with the norm for mid-November, at least over the past half-decade.
“Since 2007, the number of elk on the refuge in November has declined,” Cole said. “That’s primarily due to the south end unit hunt, which causes disturbances. They don’t tend to stay.”
In 2007, the Elk Refuge initiated a hunt on its south end to dissuade wildlife from wandering onto the reserve before winter. The southern hunt allows only limited-range weapons, including shotguns and bows and arrows.
Hunting is not allowed along a buffer strip between Highway 26/89/191 and the town of Jackson and also between the refuge road and the Bridger-Teton National Forest boundary opposite Miller Butte.
Hunting on the refuge has been dismal this year, Cole said.
The refuge hunt opened nearly six weeks ago on Oct. 6.
“There’s only been three elk that I’m aware of that have been killed,” he said. “Especially since the last weather event, there have been a fair number of hunters. The hunters are basically anticipating the elk movement based on the weather we’ve had.”
The timing for this year’s migration is “basically comparable” to last year, which was another late migration, Cole said.
In 2011, elk didn’t begin to move to the National Elk Refuge until a snowstorm hit the valley over a three-day stretch from Nov. 17 through Nov. 19.