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News and Opinion

BITTERROOT VALLEY ELK NUMBERS INCREASE IN ANNUAL COUNT

by PERRY BACKUS, May 10, 2011 - Ravalli Republic
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Craig Jourdonnais spotted around 400 more elk in the Bitterroot Valley this spring than during the annual monitoring flight last year.

But he's not ready to tell anyone to start celebrating.

"It's good that we saw more elk, but this year's conditions for counting were exceptional," Jourdonnais said. "The elk were more concentrated and easier to count."

This year's count may just be a reflection of that happenstance.

"We hit green-up just right, and the elk were out in places where we could see them," Jourdonnais said. "There were only a few days where we had to hunt and dig them out of the timber. That didn't happen much."

In total, Jourdonnais counted 6,605 elk in the Bitterroot Valley. Last year, he spotted about 6,200.

With calf survival rates relatively low over the past few years, Jourdonnais said it is doubtful that elk numbers will increase dramatically in most areas of the Bitterroot.

The one exception may be the west side of the valley, where calf numbers appear to be on the increase.

"Hunting District 240 is the one area that seems to be having a legitimate upswing," Jourdonnais said. "I counted more than 30 calves per 100 cows. That's the highest recruitment rate that I've seen since I've been here."

There is a caveat, however.

The best calf/cow numbers are found in the herds hugging the river bottoms. Jourdonnais counted upward of 51 calves per 100 cows on those private lands on the valley bottoms, which helped to drive the average higher.

That's a trend Jourdonnais is noticing throughout the Bitterroot.

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE IN THE RAVALLI REPUBLIC HERE

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