Hunters and B.C.’s natural resources ministry are locking horns over a proposed elk hunt in the Bulkley Valley.
Both sides agree the elk herd is growing and causing trouble for cattle ranchers. But they differ on the size of the herd.
Rick Boonstra has a ranch in Quick, a few kilometres north of Deep Creek where most of the elk seem to overwinter.
“They’ll rip fences up,” Boonstra said. “They’ll chase work horses away, they’ll rip up every bale they can find.”
“They’ll actually chase your cattle away and won’t let them eat.”
Boonstra said that ranchers and farmers in Robson Valley, the Peace River district, the Kootenays and Grand Prairie have all seen elk herds grow out of control in recent years.
To avoid that here, Boonstra and other Bulkley Valley ranchers are throwing their support behind the Skeena Hunter’s Advisory Committee (SHAC), which has asked the province to open a limited hunt for bull elk.
“We’re not asking for a lot—a one-week season, and you can only kill a bull that’s got at least six points on an antler,” said Mike O’Neill, a Smithers hunter a member of SHAC.
Lisa Barrett, a spokesperson for B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, said the ministry received SHAC members’ request for an elk hunt in the winter of 2010.
In response, Barrett said wildlife technicians at the ministry ran the first-ever population survey of Bulkley Valley elk on Feb. 9, 2011.
Technicians sighted 24 elk after flying by helicopter over 80 square kilometres of farmland and aspen woods in the Quick area.
Based on reported sightings and a 2004 radio-collar study, that area is thought to makes up most of the herd’s core winter range of 135 square kilometres.
In the report, wildlife technician George Schultze put a conservative “ball park” estimate of the entire between 50 and 70 elk.
Cow-to-calf ratios do suggest the herd is growing, Schultze said, but he warned that the sample size was too small to be sure.
After tallying the number of elk complaints, Schultze also said it appears they are not a problem for most farmers and ranchers in the area.
If the elk herd does grow and is confirmed by future surveys, Barrett said the ministry will reconsider the SHAC request for a hunt.
O’Neill said the results of the February were “questionable.”
“We’ve talked to some of these ranchers and they’ve seen up to 120 in one day,” he said. SHAC plans to make another elk hunt proposal after holding its annual general meeting on Dec. 10.
However, the ministry will not hear any more requests until after the submission deadline for the 2012-2014 hunting regulations have passed.
That deadline itself has become a bone of contention.
Ken Franzen, a Prince Rupert hunter and SHAC’s regional president, said SHAC members missed this year’s proposal deadline because the ministry bumped it from December to October.
“We were placed in a position where the SHAC meeting couldn’t take place because everyone was out hunting or guiding,” Franzen said.
SHAC still plans to make new hunting proposals after it meets Dec. 10, he said, adding that he hopes Victoria will still hear those proposals in spite of the October deadline.