More elk hunting tags will be issued on Canadian Forces Base Suffield near Medicine Hat in February.
It is an apparent provincial government response to concerns about a growing elk herd now estimated at 6,600 to 8,000 animals.
Tags for 500 elk will be available through a draw, and hunting will take place on the base Feb. 2-5 and Feb. 9-12.
Alberta Environment announced the additional hunting quota with the federal national defence department. The February tags are in addition to the 660 antlerless elk tags issued earlier this year for animals on the base and another 300 issued for areas immediately adjacent. Of the latter, 200 were for cows and 100 for bull elk.
The February allocation will in-volve 125 licences issued for each of the two four-day sessions. Each successful hunter can kill two antlerless elk, according to information released by Alberta Environment.
The burgeoning herd has caused complaints from ranchers whose fences, crops and stored feed are damaged when the elk leave the base.
Jeff Lewandoski, who ranches next to CFB Suffield, said the additional licences indicate the government sees the need to control herd size, but he doubts that can be achieved through hunting.
“It’s still not enough numbers to control the amount of births that are going to happen in spring,” he said.
Hunters are having success with tags already issued, but Lewandoski wonders if the full complement of elk will be killed if there is heavy snow and cold in February.
He said 25 percent of the people who have tags for the current draw haven’t come to hunt.
CFB Suffield has restrictions on access for safety and security reasons. Hunters must take an orientation course and be escorted on and off the 2,700 sq. kilometre base.
Lewandoski said base officials have been more co-operative recently to accommodate hunters.
“They’ve opened it up to a bigger area where they can hunt on the base, and I guess range control is giving those hunters quite a bit of help and hints about where the elk herds are.”
Lewandoski, who has taken on the task of seeking solutions to the elk problem, was unable to obtain a tag earlier this year.
“I’m not much of a hunter but I thought, you know, I’m going to become one.”
He applied for a tag to hunt bull elk because they cause the problems on his property. He wasn’t successful, nor could he obtain an antlerless elk tag for the area outside the base.
Lewandoski and other landowners in the region continue to think an organized cull, with elk captured and then systematically slaughtered for meat, is the best long-term solution.
As for hunting this year and in 2015, “I expect probably about 1,100 animals (will be) taken. That’s still only half of what we need to harvest in order to keep up with the birth rate.”
Duncan MacDonnell, spokesperson for Alberta Environment, said if all 1,460 draws for elk are used, it could reduce the herd by about 20 percent.
The lottery for the February draws runs Jan. 5-14.