Wildlife managers were correct in guessing that they missed some errant elk while counting the National Elk Refuge population on a wet, socked-in day last week.
Recounting the alfalfa-fed elk on Tuesday, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and refuge staff came up with 8,879 animals — about 9 percent more than the 8,129 head tallied one by one a week ago.
“It went much better than the first one, in terms of the behavior of the animals and confidence in the results,” National Elk Refuge Biologist Eric Cole said. “Because the weather was colder and the elk were hungrier, in most cases they stayed on the feedline during the count.”
The 8,879 elk, he said, is a count unequaled in the past two decades. It’s also 77 percent more than a 5,000-elk objective devised to allow the refuge to reduce supplemental feeding and return the range closer to natural condition.
The population of the larger Jackson Elk Herd was much near its own goal of 11,000. The raw count of 10,766 elk was up a sliver compared to last year’s 10,668 animals, but discouragingly for managers, the herd is as concentrated as ever on the National Elk Refuge. This winter more than eight of 10 members of the Jackson Elk Herd detected were parked on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service property.
Gender and sex ratios in the elk herd were about stable, at 19 calves, 29 mature bulls and seven spike bulls for every 100 cows.
Following years of heavy hunting, the number of bison feeding on the refuge this winter came in at 504 — right at the managers’ goal.
Game and Fish’s annual season-setting meeting for the Jackson bison and elk herds and other ungulate species in the region has been scheduled for 6 p.m. March 21 at the Teton County Commissioner’ Chambers.