Elk herd causing headaches for ranchers, property owners

by Phil Ambroziak

The old saying “the more, the merrier” isn’t one RM of Loon Lake property owners are likely to apply to the increased number of elk spotted in the area in recent months.

According to Laurie Lehoux, administrator for both the RM and Village of Loon Lake, there have been larger herds sighted in the Barthel area, which have been causing ongoing crop damage for some time.

“Any bales that have been left out are being eaten by the elk, and I personally came very close to hitting an elk recently while driving to an early morning meeting,” Lehoux said. “I had never seen one on the highway before. This was the first time I’ve seen one so close to Loon Lake.”

RM reeve Bob Gristwood has been a cattle rancher in the area for more than 15 years. He believes the rise in the number of elk and their increased presence on area farmland is the result of hunting.

“They’re not dumb animals – they’re going to go where they’re not being shot at,” Gristwood said. “This problem with the elk is not new, but when I came here in 1997 there were no more than 75 in a herd. Now, however,  there’re closer to 400. It’s become a little worse every year. The reason it’s more noticeable now is because they’ve moved further north and are affecting more people.”

Gristwood said, in past years, eight to 12 property owners per year were impacted by the presence of elk. Now, it’s closer to 60.
In spite of Gristwood’s belief that hunting may have driven more elk north, he also believes it to be a possible solution to the current situation.

“I have no beef with people hunting the elk, but those who are hunting them are mostly after the big bulls,” he said. “This still leaves a bunch of females that continue to breed with lower-end bulls, resulting in an even larger elk population.”

Although he isn’t a hunter, Gristwood said he has approached the Ministry of Environment in the past about introducing a draw on female elk, something he said was implemented this season.

“They finally did put a draw out for a certain number of females, but I don’t think they did so because of my frustration alone,” he said. “These elk are causing thousands of dollars in damages for a lot of people. They damage fences, come in and eat the good stuff. They climb on it and urinate on it. When they do that, you might as well burn the bales because your cattle will not eat it if it’s been (urinated) and (defecated) on.”

As for compensation, Gristwood said there is some available through Crop Insurance, but would like to see even more.

“They (government) need to expand the program,” he said. “Right now, there are certain guidelines you have to meet, such as making sure your bales are stacked a certain way, which makes it difficult for some people to be properly reimbursed for their losses.”

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