Back to the Homepage With Communication, Understanding Follows; New Mexico State Game & Fish Homepage
Photograph By Dale Hall

“Elk can easily jump a standard barbwire fence,” says Robert Livingston, Northwest Area Game Manager for the Department of Game and Fish, “but when they are traveling in a group or single file, the lead animals see the fence and jump it. The followers do not see it in time and crash into the wire.” This not only hurts the elk but damages the fence. Members of the Cuba Depredation Committee sought and obtained a grant from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to purchase materials to help avoid this common problem in the area. They purchased inexpensive plastic pipe and slit it with a table saw. The pipe is squeezed onto the top wire of the fence and snaps tight preventing it from falling off. The white color of the pipe seems to provide the best visibility for elk, especially as they travel mostly at night. Although the visibility pipe is necessary only in travel corridors where elk frequently jump a fence, Jemez Mountain rancher Betty Jane Curry was so impressed with the success of the pipe, she had it installed on almost all the fences surrounding her subirrigated pasture. She now wonders why this technique was not brought to her attention years ago.

Dale A. Hall

 

Balancing Elk Management

It’s often hard for the Department of Game and Fish to know who to listen to. Those that say New Mexico needs more and better elk, or those who say we just have too many. How is it possible for an agency to manage elk when everybody has an opinion and their opinion is right! When we look back at the history of elk restoration in the state, we become painfully aware there have always been problems associated with these animals. In 1910, elk were first reintroduced to the Barlett Ranch (Vermejo Ranch) in northeastern New Mexico. Those 10 elk and their offspring caused such a nuisance that they had to be recaptured and moved to a more remote location. As a caring and loving lady from La Jara wrote me, “I have accepted elk much like I’ve accepted the neighbor’s teenagers. In certain amusing ways, elk are very similar to teenage boys in their appetites and disrespect for private properties.” Today we estimate there are 80,000 elk in New Mexico. Problems? Oh yes! Although elk are the foundation of a multimillion dollar recreation-tourism industry, they negatively impact many people who live in the area elk inhabit. The Department is obligated to achieve some balance in elk population levels. How can we achieve “balance” without the scale’s pan hitting the table on one side, then rising back and thumping the table the other? I think the answer lies in a mixture of localized management, science, experience, and accountability. However, reaching that magic blend we all can call “good” management is going to take a lot of communication through the decision making process. As I see it, two of the three parties with the most at stake concerning elk population numbers are passing by each other with hardly a nod. One group is on the way to commission meetings to make an excellent case for more elk, while the other is headed for the roundhouse to do an equally fine job of informing legislators that there are too many elk. The third group thinks it knows best, but cannot figure out why elk management is so painful and difficult. What results is…the balance pans hitting the table! What can we, as the Department of Game and Fish, do? We can listen…we can respond…and we can be held accountable! ARE WE LISTENING… Lets look at the three maps. After listening to citizens, commissioners, and depredation committees; the Department developed recommendations and presented those to it’s citizen oversight board, the State Game Commission. After hearing testimony from the parties interested in elk, they gave directions to the Department in June 1997 to maintain, decrease, or increase elk populations in specific management units (first map).

ARE WE RESPONDING… As elk managers, we would love to know exactly how many elk inhabit each unit, but we don’t. At this point, with the money and manpower we have available, we can measure trends and estimate elk populations. The second map indicates (the best our science and experience can tell us) what happened in attempt to achieve those goals by hunting elk in the 1998-99 season. As you can see, we met some of those unit goals, we harvested less than expected in some, and exceeded the harvest of elk in others. ARE WE ACCOUNTABLE… Based on whether or not we achieved the goals ascribed to us, we should be held accountable. If we have not achieved a goal in a unit, why not? Appropriate understanding of why, should be followed by corrective strategies. With adjustments, the process should start over again. And so it does! The third map indicates the new recommendations finalized at a special meeting of the State Game Commission on May 22, 1999 for the 1999-2000 hunting season. These objectives were developed after listening to citizens, commissioners, and legislators. The map indicates the goals for elk herds per management unit. In future issues, we will let you know what happened to elk populations after the hunts occur. You hold us accountable, let’s make adjustments together, and we will continue the process, each time getting better at meeting peoples desires for elk management. HOW CAN WE IMPROVE? In the next issue of the Cooperator we will discuss and explore a noticeably missing part in managing elk herds—communication by all parties. How we bring the groups together to communicate their desires in an orderly decision making process, will effect how “well” elk are managed in New Mexico.

Dale A. Hall

. . .two of the three parties with the most at stake concerning elk population numbers are passing by each other with hardly a nod.

Gila Wilderness Homepage