Bear and Mountain Lions
Reduce Elk Calf Survival
Healthy elk populations are found throughout most of Idaho. The elk in the Clearwater Basin, however, have dramatically declined over the past decade.

Because of this decline, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission reduced the number of bull elk rifle tags available to hunters. Fish and Game also increased harvest opportunities on the healthy bear and lion populations and is aggressively working with public land managers to improve elk habitat through the Clearwater Elk Habitat Initiative.

In 1997, Fish and Game initiated a research project to investigate the possible causes of the declining elk population. After gathering information for three years, it is apparent that predation by black bears and mountain lions is an important mortality factor in the study areas. Predation has claimed about 80 percent of the radio-collared elk calves in the Game Management Unit-12 study area and about 30 percent of the calves in Game Management Unit-15.

However, it is also apparent that factors — especially habitat quality, the physical condition of the cows, and pregnancy rates — also play central roles in elk production. The research goal is to develop a better understanding of the role these factors play, which would serve as the underpinnings of a sound management approach. The proposed manipulation of the black bear and mountain lion populations on a small portion of Game Management Unit-12 study area is designed to improve this understanding.

This proposed treatment area is a 200-square-mile portion of the 12,000-square-mile Clearwater Region. Biologists estimate one to two bears per square mile in the study area (200-400 total bears). The research goal is to reduce the black bear and mountain lion population by 50 percent and continue to measure elk calf survival, cow pregnancy and physical condition, and other variables.

Recently, the Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services, and Fish and Game developed a scoping document outlining a proposal to manipulate black bear and mountain lion densities on this treatment area. The intent of the scoping document was to gather public comment and opinion. Wildlife Services received more than 300 responses from entities interested in the Elk Research Project, many of which were concerned about the use of Wildlife Services to reduce the bear and lion populations. Many responded that hunters and outfitters should be allowed to harvest more bears and lions to meet the research project objectives.

After reviewing the public input and evaluating options, Wildlife Services and Fish and Game have decided to suspend work on the original proposal. The overall Elk Research Project will proceed and, as an alternative, Fish and Game will pursue traditional harvest methods to increase black bear and mountain lion harvest, and thus manipulate those populations to meet project objectives.

This project will provide a better understanding of the relative role predation, habitat quality and structure, elk physical condition and pregnancy rates, elk densities and other factors play in elk population dynamics. The results will help managers work toward a balance between elk, bears and lions to meet wildlife objectives.

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