LARAMIE — One way to solve an elk overpopulation problem in eastern Wyoming would be to issue unlimited killing permits to ranchers, a state legislator argued on Tuesday.
“This is our last chance to help these people in these areas. They haven’t been helped in 30 years,” Rep. Bill Allemand, R-Midwest,told fellow members of the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee.
During the committee’s meeting at the University of Wyoming on Tuesday, there was extensive discussion about how to deal with an overabundance of elk in parts of the Cowboy State, particularly in Albany and Laramie counties.
Allemand introduced the idea of issuing unlimited “lethal take” permits to ranchers, which they could either use themselves or hand off to people of their choosing. The permits could be used to shoot as many elk as the holder wants on the property, with $20 going back to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department for each elk killed.
Under the proposal, the lethal take permits would be good from Aug.1 until April 1 of the following year.
Allemand initially introduced the lethal take permit program as an amendment to another bill the committee was considering, and then as a stand-alone bill. It failed both times.
Allemand told Cowboy State Daily that he might still try to introduce his proposal as a stand-alone bill during the upcoming 2024 Legislative session, but he hadn’t decided for sure.
One daunting challenge is the fact that the 2024 legislative session is a budget session, he said. That means any bills that are introduced must pass by a two-thirds supermajority in both the House and Senate, instead of by a simple majority.
Too Many Elk?
An overabundance of elk in parts of eastern Wyoming has vexed legislators and officials for a while now. For instance, the Game and Fish Department’s objective for the Iron Mountain elk herd is 1,800 animals, but it’s been estimated to be around 4,800 elk.
Many of those elk are on private property with limited access to general public hunters during the normal seasons.
Related to that quandary, the committee voted to forward a bill that will boost the compensation ranchers get for the loss of forage to elk on private and leased state lands to $150 of the market value of AUMs (animal unit months). That’s currently about $30 per AUM. The higher compensation rate would apply only in areas where elk herds are above Game and Fish population objectives.
That bill initially failed, but it was brought back up for reconsideration. A sunset clause was added for July 1, 2030, and the bill passed the committee.
Don’t Make It A Trophy Hunt
Lethal take permits are nothing new, and Game and Fish has used them to try cutting down on elk herds in southeastern Wyoming, Rick King, the agency’s chief game warden and chief of the Wildlife Division, told the committee.
Those permits can be issued to landowners in limited numbers, and they allow for elk to be killed beyond usual bag limits and sometimes outside of regular hunting seasons.
Allemand’s proposal would make access to lethal take permits essentially unlimited for landowners.
Initially, he suggested that ranchers be able to sell the permits if they wished.
King argued that might just perpetuate the elk overpopulation problem. That’s because it could create a situation in which some landowners would put lethal take permits up for sale to the highest bidder, essentially creating a market for high-dollar trophy elk hunts. That, in turn, could encourage people to keep the elk population as high as possible.
Allemand and other legislators agreed to change the proposed measure’s language to allow ranchers to give lethal take permits away, but not sell them.
Speaking with Cowboy State Daily later, Allemand said that if he does decide to introduce a lethal take elk permit bill during the upcoming session, he will make it for cow elk only. That would eliminate the temptation for landowners to make it about exclusive trophy hunting, instead of the original intent of effectively cutting down the elk population, he said.
The proposal would also require that any elk killed on the lethal take permits have to be “processed for human consumption” and not just left to go to waste.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.