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FOR ELK HUNTERS FEWER CALVES MEAN FEWER TAGS

DECLINING SURVIVAL RATES: The percentage of elk calves in Union and Wallowa counties that survive is declining. In the Starkey Unit the calf survival rate was 21 per 100 cows this spring. In Wallowa County the overall calf survival rate over the past year was also 21 per 100 cows. In the 1970s Wallowa County had calf survival rates as high as 48 percent. (Jim Ward photo).
DECLINING SURVIVAL RATES: The percentage of elk calves in Union and Wallowa counties that survive is declining. In the Starkey Unit the calf survival rate was 21 per 100 cows this spring. In Wallowa County the overall calf survival rate over the past year was also 21 per 100 cows. In the 1970s Wallowa County had calf survival rates as high as 48 percent. (Jim Ward photo).

By Dick Mason

Observer staff writer

Public school enrollment is not the only thing declining in Union and Wallowa counties.

Elk calf survival rates are also falling. Hunters will soon feel the impact.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists in Union and Wallowa counties are proposing that significant reductions be made in the number of tags available for controlled antlerless elk hunts this fall.

In Union County, biologists say the number of antlerless tags should be trimmed by about 60 percent. In the Starkey Unit, for example, biologists are proposing that 695 antlerless elk tags be sold. Last year 1,700 antlerless tags were issued for the unit.

In Wallowa County biologists are recommending that tags be cut by 110 to 260.

ODFW biologists in Union and Wallowa counties are not recommending significant changes in the number of bull elk tags that will be issued.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote on the biologists proposals in June.

Dramatic drop

The drop in calf survival rates in Union and Wallowa counties is more than a one-year anomaly.

In the Starkey Unit the calf survival rate was 21 per 100 cows this spring and 23 per 100 cows a year. The percentages represent the number of calves who survived to live at least a year.

ODFW records indicate that the Starkey Unit has not had two consecutive years of such poor calf survival in decades, Erickson said.

In Wallowa County the overall calf survival rate over the past year was 21 per 100 cows and in 2000 it was 18 per 100 cows. ODFW biologist Vic Coggins of Enterprise noted that it was once common for Wallowa County to have 40 percent calf survival rates. In the 1970s, the county had calf survival rates as high as 48 percent.

Coggins attributes the recent decline to increased cougar predation. Calf survival rates have been declining since 1995, the first year that the use of dogs for tracking cougars was banned in Oregon. Since then Coggins believes that Wallowa Countys cougar population has been increasing.

The number of antlerless tags made available for Wallowa County hunts has declined as calf survival rates have fallen. Coggins noted that in 1995 4,140 antlerless elk tags were issued for the county.

Erickson believes that the decline in calf survival rates in Union County is either related to predation or nutrition. He noted that the number of elk becoming pregnant has not declined and that disease does not seem to be a problem.

Something is not allowing the young animals to survive but we dont know what it is, Erickson said.

He is hopeful that an ODFW calf survival study in the Wenaha and Sledd Springs units of Wallowa County will help answer the Union County question.

Funding for the study is now being sought.

Bull tags about the same

On the plus side, the number of tags proposed for controlled bull elk hunts is about the same as last year.

Hunters can expect to find an abundance of branch antlered bulls in places such as the Starkey Unit. About two thirds of the bull elk in the Starkey Unit are branch- antlered bulls, Erickson said.

The large number reflects a spike-only regulation for hunters which went into effect in 1996. Erickson noted that before the spike -only regulation took effect, 80 to 90 percent of the bull elk in the Starkey Unit were spikes.

In Wallowa County biologists are proposing that 4,420 bull tags be issued. This is a reduction of 200 from last year. The number of bull tags made available in Wallowa County has declined significantly in the past six years because of falling elk numbers.

Deer tags stable

The number of buck and antlerless deer tags ODFW biologists are recommending for Wallowa County is similar to what was issued a year ago.

In Wallowa County, 4,075 buck tags are recommended for 2001, an increase of 75 from last year. A total of 455 antlerless deer tags are recommended, the same total as last year.

In Union County the number of buck and antlerless tags recommended is also similar to the number issued in 2000. Hunts will be again be conducted in the Starkey, Catherine Creek and East Mount Emily units.

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