Hunter access to army base expands to reduce elk

An elk hunt on Canadian Forces Base Suffield and surrounding areas will be expanded in coming years in efforts to reduce a herd estimated at 6,600 to 8,000 animals.

Duncan MacDonnell, public affairs officer with Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resources, said his department is working with the base on a longer-term management plan.

It will include greater access by hunters to the base, where civilian access is now restricted.

“We’re working with them to resolve some of those (access issues) so we can up the hunt,” MacDonnell said. “I don’t know what the number would be. We haven’t reached that yet, but it’s going to be more than it is now, if everything goes well.”

The department issued 600 tags for cow elk on the base this year, plus 60 for CFB personnel.

Another 300 tags were made available for areas immediately adjacent to the base. Of those, 200 are for cow elk and 100 for bull elk.

He said about 200 tags were issued in 2012, the first year for an elk hunting program on the base. It was increased to 300 last year.

Jeff Lewandoski, who ranches next to the base, said hunting hasn’t reduced the herd by much and won’t be enough to address elk population growth. Out of the 900 tags issued this year, he expects less than half will result in a dead elk.

“The elk have outsmarted us and the hunters, really,” he said.“They know where it’s safe, and they know that it’s safe to come in after dark and they’re gone by daylight.”

He is spending much of his time managing hunters, but few have shot any elk since the middle of September. First Nations hunters that he invited to shoot elk before the start of the hunting season were similarly unsuccessful.

“They’re survivors. That’s why they do so well because they’re built to survive and they’re built to evade predators and now we’re one of their predators, and they’ve figured us out.”

Lewandoski said the federal and provincial governments each say the other should be managing the elk. Inaction is the result.

He and a group of people concerned about the herd recently developed a proposal to capture some of the elk, butcher them and give the meat to food banks.

However, Lewandoski said the provincial government dismissed the plan outright.

“It was just an idea. It might not be perfect but at least we came up with an idea, a plan. It’s a lot more than anybody else has done,” he said.

MacDonnell confirmed that an elk cull is not part of government plans.

“We’re going to continue with the managed hunt. We believe that’s a very responsible tool for getting that herd size back down to something a little less intrusive on the landscape out there.”

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