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State's elk herd continues to grow, resulting in more tags

| Tuesday, May 8, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
This is William Zee and the monster, record-book elk he took in Clearfield County last fall. It is the new state record non-typical elk. Courtesy of the Boone & Crockett Club
This is William Zee and the monster, record-book elk he took in Clearfield County last fall. It is the new state record non-typical elk. Courtesy of the Boone & Crockett Club

Pennsylvania's elk herd is big and getting bigger.

Chris Rosenberry, head of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's deer and elk section, said the state's elk herd numbered about 500 animals in 2008. A count this winter put the herd at 824 elk, minimum.

The two largest concentrations of animals — both of which are still growing — are located in the Winslow Hill and Pottersdale areas, he said.

Commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County said the population at the former is starting to worry him a bit.

“The Winslow Hill population seems to be getting to the point where we're going to have to do something, maybe chase some of them out of there,” he said.

There have been no conflicts with elk in that region —home to the popular viewing area — as of yet, Rosenberry said.

There's a lot of habitat on public land there, and that's tended to keep the elk out of trouble, he said.

It's true the commission would like to see the elk herd in general expand eastward, where lots of public land exists, he said.

“But in terms of expectations, we haven't seen a lot of movement yet,” Rosenberry said.

That's a function of habitat, commission executive director Carl Roe said.

It just doesn't exist in sufficient quantities in the northeastern part of the elk range, for example, to entice animals to go there, he said.

The boom in Marcellus shale drilling activity may help change that, though. Roe said open spaces resulting from gas transmission lines could provide habitat and travel corridors when they are seeded.

In the meantime, the commission has no plans to move elk — as it did in the late 1990s in a trap-and-transfer program — because of the risk of transferring ailments such as chronic wasting disease. No such diseases have been found in the state's elk herd, but no one wants to chance it, it seems.

“It's not a matter of being doable. It's a matter of being responsible thing to do for elk management,” Rosenberry said. “It's just not a risk worth taking.”

One benefit of the growing herd is that there will be a few more hunting opportunities this fall.

Last year, the commission offered 56 elk licences, 18 for bulls and 36 for cows. This year, it will offer 65, including 19 bull tags and 46 cow tags.

One “conservation tag” license also will be offered. It was raffled off earlier this year at a Safari Club International banquet.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bfrye@tribweb.com or 724-838-5148.

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