Elk slow arriving, deterred by hunt
By Mike Koshmrl, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: December 3, 2012
In what could be the “new normal,” Jackson Hole wapiti delayed migration onto the National Elk Refuge until nearly December.
Historically, several thousand elk roamed the refuge by mid- to late-November.
This year, only hundreds have been tallied thus far, and it’s not guaranteed they will stay put, refuge biologist Eric Cole said.
“We might be witnessing the new normal,” Cole said Thursday. “We’ve only had sporadic, small-scale movements of elk on the refuge.
“Typically about 50 percent of collared elk have been on the refuge at this point in the season, but I’ve yet to detect a single one,” Cole said.
About 65 elk in the 11,900-animal Jackson Hole herd have radio collars; 35 typically winter on the refuge, the biologist said.
The following morning, on Friday, the first major movement of elk occurred. Cole counted three groups of elk with 628 animals on the south end of the refuge. Among the animals were seven collared elk.
Cole attributed the delayed migration to a hunt on the refuge’s south end that was initiated in 2007.
“The Thanksgiving Day population average prior to the 2007 south end hunt was 3,800,” Cole said. “This year we had 80 for the same week. The segments of the herd that used to arrive early have either been killed or they learned to avoid the refuge until later in the winter.”
With only 10 days left in the season, elk hunting on the refuge has been slow.
“As of today, only 18 elk were reported killed,” Cole said Thursday. “By this time last year approximately 70 elk were reported harvested.”
On Thursday, approximately “100 to 200” elk crossed onto the refuge using the Gros Ventre River as a migration corridor, Cole said.
The elk quickly headed for safer territory, however, crossing over Miller Butte and onto Bridger-Teton National Forest land.
The group of 628 that landed on the refuge Friday also moved onto the Bridger-Teton, he said.
Elk hunt unit 80, where they ended up, closed to hunting that same day.
As of Wednesday, 37 pronghorn were still loitering on the National Elk Refuge.
“They have been known to migrate out of the valley in December,” Cole said. “It’s unusual but not unprecedented.”
It’s unseasonably late to see pronghorn in Jackson Hole, and when they stick around for the winter they usually don’t fare well.
“In my time here, when pronghorn stay on the refuge, their survival is dependent on snow conditions,” Cole said.
In the winter of 1997-1998, at least half of the 25 pronghorn documented on the refuge died, mostly from coyote depredation and from their difficulties living in deep snow, he said.