Officials say predator density is affecting Sanders County’s elk population

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks officials heard extensive public comment on its new elk management plan at a meeting Thursday in Thompson Falls.

The FWP held meetings with the public across Montana this year to update the state’s elk management plan, which was last revised in 2005. The new management plan will help guide the ‘State in Future Elk Herd Management Requirements and Regulations.

Neil Anderson, regional wildlife director for northwest Montana, began the meeting with a slide presentation reviewing studies of Region 1 elk populations, hunting statistics, and predator populations. During the presentation, Anderson took questions from the audience, with many in attendance questioning the decline of elk in Sanders County and what is being done to reverse the trend.

Anderson said a few elk and wolves will be radio-collared along the Clark Fork River corridor between Thompson Falls and Noxon this winter. He also said Region 1 has the highest predator density in the state with an estimated wolf population of 500 and an estimated cougar population of 1,200. With a new elk management plan in place, the possible solutions could be a reduction in predator populations through a higher number of catches.

Anderson commented on the difficulty of counting elk in Region 1 due to dense forest. Several counting methods are currently in place, helicopters being the main one. A new method of counting with hunting cameras was tested in Hunting District 103 in 2019-20. Ninety-six cameras were installed in HD 103 to photograph their perspective areas every five minutes during the year. This test generated more than a million photographs to study.

The objective of the new plan is to put in place the harvest levels that are to be lowered or increased in each district. How can FWP maintain elk populations at target levels with hunting regulations and restrictions? How can FWP keep Montana the county’s premier spot for viewing and hunting? Other states are seeing a decline in the number of hunting licenses issued, with Montana bucking that trend. In 2004, 106,000 resident licenses were purchased, increasing in 2021 to 112,000. In 2021, 22,000 non-resident licenses were sold.

The public can comment on the Elk Management Plan by emailing comments to [email protected] or by sending comments to Montana FWP PO. Box 200701 Helena, MT 59620-0701 The date for submitting comments closes October 15, 2022.