Feb 16, 2011 5:40 PM by Mark Holyoak (KPAX News)
MISSOULA - Hunters seeking a bull elk can no longer freely hunt up the West Fork of the Bitterroot unless they draw a permit.
The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission recently adopted a change to Hunting District 250, allowing the harvest of 25 brow-tined bull permits for the 2011 season.
"It's really unusual," said FWP spokesperson Vivaca Crowser. "We've really seen a decline in the cow/calf and overall population."
For the first time in years, there was not an elk cow harvest of any type, not even by youth or disabled hunters, this past hunting season.
Regional Wildlife Manager Mike Thompson said the latest West Fork survey took place in April of 2010. It indicated a population of 764 elk.
He added that the peak elk population was 1914 in 2005. Thompson attributed the sudden decline in elk to predation by wolves, lions and bears.
The 25 permit proposal is not final and is currently going through the public comment process. A final decision is expected later this spring.
The FWP Commission recently asked the US Fish and Wildlife Service for permission to allow a limited wolf hunt up the West Fork as a means to combat the declining elk population.
The only other area of the state with a permit-only elk hunt is in the Gallatin region, but permits there are unlimited.