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By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

While the past winter was not severe by Northeast Oregon standards, it did exact a toll on some Union County elk herds.

The toll, taken by weather and predators, might be felt by hunters this fall.

Elk hunters might find that the number of tags allotted for some hunts are down, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Jim Cadwell.

In Union County, ODFW biologists are proposing that a smaller number of tags be made available for some elk hunts because of lower spring population counts in some areas.

Following is a breakdown of the impact the winter had on deer and elk and how this could effect the number of tags available.

When it meets in June, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote on tag recommendations made by biologists.

Hunters must have their applications for deer and elk hunts submitted to the ODFW by May 15.



Starkey Unit

The spring population count indicated that numbers are "good,'' Cadwell said.

Biologists, though, found only 22 fawns per 100 does.

"Typically we like to see 40 or more fawns per 100 does,'' Cadwell said.

Another minus is that the buck ratio is down to 6 bucks per 100 does.

Because of the poor fawn survival and low buck ratio, ODFW biologists are proposing that buck tags in the Starkey Unit be cut back from 1,700 to 1,400.

Catherine Creek Unit

The deer population is stable but remains one-third of the ODFW's management objective, a cause for significant concern, Cadwell said.

The fawn survival rate is 24 per 100 does, down from the past three years when it was in the high 20s and low 30s.

On the plus side, the buck ratio is a solid 14 per 100 does. Due to the good buck ratio, biologists are not proposing any reductions for deer tags in the Catherine Creek Unit.


Starkey Unit

Prospects are not good.

Calf survival rates have fallen to a dangerously low level, at 16 calves per 100 cows. A population cannot sustain itself with such low calf survival rates.

"We can't maintain the current population with this calf survival rate,'' Cadwell said.

Previously, survival rates had been between 20 and 23 calves per 100 cows, a number that biologists found disturbingly low. This year's drop was particularly alarming.

Hunters will definitely feel the impact this fall.

"We are proposing that the number of antlerless tags be reduced dramatically,'' Cadwell said.

Last year almost 600 tags were issued for antlerless tags in the Starkey Unit.

Biologists are not proposing a reduction in bull and either-sex tags for 2004 despite the calf survival problem.

Catherine Creek Unit

Things are more stable than in the Starkey Unit, and as a result no reductions in bull and antlerless tags are being proposed. Calf survival rates and population levels, though, are lower than what the ODFW would like. No reductions are being made because elk tags were already substantially reduced earlier in response to the low counts.


Biologists are not recommending any significant changes in proposed deer and elk tags because of relatively stable population levels, said ODFW biologist Vic Coggins.

Coggins said that deer and elk fared fairly well through the winter except in the west half of the Sled Springs unit. Deer fawn survival was down because much of the area was covered with heavy crusted snow for a portion of the winter.


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