Roosevelt elk bull. Photo by Clinton Steeds, Flickr.
The Roosevelt elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) once ranged from the Bay Area to Alaska along the West Coast. Historically, prior to non-indigenous settlement, elk populations in California were estimated to be around 500,000. By the late 1800’s, elk populations had been completely decimated by the introduction of non-indigenous settlers and the subsequent hunting, habitat loss, and grazing competition from domesticated animals that followed. However, concentrated conservation efforts and the elk’s impressive ability to survive natural and human-induced pressures over time resulted in a rebound of the species, notably rising in the 1970’s. Currently, the three species of elk in California now have a combined population count of about 12,900 (less than 2.5% of the historical population estimate of 500,000).
Today, California’s elk population is still working to recover from their historic decimation and occupy only a fraction of the territory they once occupied. Elk recovery has been further hampered by legacies of mismanagement, such as translocation of elk outside of areas they had once occupied, resulting in hybridization between elk subspecies. In Humboldt and Del Norte counties, the Roosevelt elk populations are estimated to consist of varying herds of only about 1,600 individuals (although these numbers are still largely unknown and unpublished). Despite these comparatively small population sizes, recreational hunting tags for elk are issued every year through the California Fish and Game Commission, even while collected data shows that elk herds overall do not seem to increase significantly each year and some herds even decline over time. In spite of that data, CFGC currently has a proposal on the table from California Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to increase the hunting tags for Roosevelt elk in Humboldt and Del Norte counties from 108 to 148 for the 2020-2021 season in order to reduce human-elk “conflicts”.
This tag increase is irresponsible when the population data that is relied on for this is anecdotal at best and while alternative solutions to these conflicts exist such as: providing financial assistance for elk fencing, conservation easements on larger ranches to support elk corridors to allow movement between coastal and upland environments, and elk road crossings. Without having accurate and transparent numbers on herd size available, the public does not have an overall realistic view of the populations of elk in this area.
CDFW is prioritizing elk hunting over other priorities. Elk management includes multiple considerations, some of which conflict with each other. Elk management includes many other important priorities such as improving existing habitat, developing new habitat, growing elk populations, conflict avoidance with humans, and improvements of sustainable enjoyment of elk as a public trust resource, through non-consumptive (wildlife viewing) enjoyment. Promoting elk hunting and promoting non-consumptive enjoyment (like viewing) are seemingly at odds, although CDFW is charged with providing for both uses. CDFW is pushing forward an increase in elk hunting tags despite bad data and competing interests that counsel against more hunting. Please let the Commission know that without more transparent numbers, alternative solutions, and increased public participation, this proposal should be opposed and tag numbers should not be increased.