Many of us have either been a part of or heard about the recent buzz of the Sawtooth Elk Zone tag sales and herd management. Over the years this area has taken a substantial population hit yet the hunt popularity for these zones has remained quite high and now that herd health is looking up we are seeing a hunter opportunity issue. Due to popularity, these tags have sold out very quickly and many hunters are expressing frustration about the fairness of the current process for purchasing tags.
Currently IDFG has a quota/cap on the A & B tags to help prevent over harvest in these units and in turn allow elk herds to continue growing towards IDFG objectives. According to biologists this plan is working to increase elk numbers, but as always Fish and Game has to balance between herd health and hunter opportunity. Thus, IDFG has proposed two separate options to help resolve this issue.
Option 1 – Is to convert the current system into controlled hunts, offering archery-only controlled hunts broken into two areas, with a total of 575 tags. The B tags would also break into two separate areas offering 975 tags for units 33, 34 and 35. And 575 tags for unit 36.
Option 2 – Removes the cap on the A tag hunts and converts the B tag into a limited quota hunt for units 33, 34 and 35, but keeps a cap on unit 36. This would keep the general archery season “as is” in regard to hunt areas and season dates, but would release the cap and effectively bring back a “normal” archery only season. For B tags, unit 36 would keep its current cap of 1,000 tags, while units, 33, 34 and 35 would be combined into one area and be allocated 675 tags.
These options help address the “fairness” issue, but create a list of cons; hunters would be limited to applying for “antlered-only” hunts in these units and could not apply for moose, sheep or mountain goat in the same year. If successfully drawn, hunters would have a one year waiting period before applying again. Both options set precedents for how we see these issues handled in the future.
Fairness is a sensitive subject, but in the big picture we must look around and see what is best for our next generation. Idaho’s elk populations are above objective in most areas, a testament to the current system working. If we look at other state management plans, we can see a trend moving into limited quota hunting and often times the result is a loss in hunter opportunity and subsequently a loss in hunter enrollment. What is fair to our next generation of hunters and what is fair to the elk herds that we need to sustain in healthy numbers?