WHEREAS Alberta’s elk populations are increasing rapidly due to current wildlife management policies; and
WHEREAS increased elk populations within primarily agricultural areas has impacted agricultural producers through damage to hay land, pasture, silage crops and other crops; and
WHEREAS the introduction of an antlerless elk season in many of Alberta’s wildlife management units was intended to assist in elk population control;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) request that the Government of Alberta increase the number of antlerless elk draw seasons to a minimum of two per wildlife management unit (WMU) located within agricultural areas; and
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that RMA request that the Government of Alberta increase the number of antlerless elk tags allocated within WMUs that are located within agricultural areas to compensate for poor hunter harvest success.
Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) 334 is comprised of portions of Leduc County, Brazeau County, and Yellowhead County. The eastern portion of this WMU is primarily agricultural land with a high proportion of livestock operations, who rely on hay land and silage crops (such as corn) to provide winter feed for their cattle herds. Over the past three years, several herds of non-migrating elk have become established within WMU 334. Sightings of at least two separate herds of eighty elk and two herds of forty are common within the area. These elk have been damaging both standing and stockpiled forages that are intended for cattle feed.
Elk in the area have become especially damaging to corn crops that are intended as winter grazing for the cattle. While there are techniques for preventing and mitigating ungulate damage, such as deterrent, intercept feed and permanent fencing, these techniques are typically not effective/economical when dealing with large areas, such as entire fields.
The introduction of an antlerless elk season is believed to assist in the control of elk populations by removing female elk from the population. Tags are allocated within each WMU based on population numbers. This allocation assumes that with a 100% success rate of harvest, population numbers will be manageable. However, based on Alberta Environment and Parks’ (AEP) Hunter Harvest Report, hunter success rates for elk only exceeded 50% in one WMU, and was only 11% in specifically for WMU 334.
AEP has confirmed that there has not been a specific survey for elk conducted within WMU 334, and the last aerial survey that was flown for other ungulate species was in January 2016. However, AEP had allocated 20 antlerless tags for WMU 334 in 2019 and 20 in 2020. According to the 2019 Hunter Harvest Report in 2019, five female elk and two young elk were harvested within the WMU, a success rate of 35%. Although this is a higher success rate than is recorded on the estimated resident harvest for elk, it is not a high enough success rate to ensure populations are managed.
By increasing the number of antlerless hunting seasons within WMUs where agriculture is a significant operation, the season in which elk can be hunted within these WMU’s can be extended, and it is believed that the hunter harvest success rate can be increased. By increasing the number of antlerless tags available in these unit areas, elk populations will be more accurately managed even with a less than ideal hunter harvest rate.
Past resolutions have been endorsed by members of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta specifically related to elk population control, although there are no active resolutions currently.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Environment and Parks
I appreciated hearing from RMA members regarding elk depredation specific to Wildlife Management Unit 334. To mitigate elk depredation in Alberta’s agricultural areas, Environment and Parks employs several management strategies, including adding extra seasons, extending antlerless seasons and changing landowner licence eligibility. While these strategies reduce depredation, they can also contribute to concerns related to hunter density, which can impact hunting access and limit harvest success.
I encourage the RMA to have concerned members track depredation events and provide details to their local fish and wildlife office (contact information is available at www.alberta.ca by searching for “fish and wildlife contacts”), as this information can be used to assist the department in managing elk.
I have asked Environment and Parks staff to review the current landowner special licence process to ensure it is efficient and relevant to minimizing depredation issues. The department will also be evaluating the antlerless elk special licence as part of its annual process for recommending changes to hunting rules, and will adjust the number to better address concerns over agricultural conflict. Department staff indicate that an increase in antlerless elk tags and split seasons will not necessarily account for limited hunter success. Hunters’ ability to access lands containing the elk herds remains a key factor in determining the effectiveness of hunting as an elk-management tool. To assist on this front, I encourage RMA’s members to facilitate elk hunter access to private and leased public lands. This would have a substantial impact on harvest success.
Alberta Municipal Affairs
Alberta’s disaster recovery programs (DRPs) are intended to be financial assistance programs of last resort in response to widespread disasters or emergencies. The intent is that applicants first use insurance and other sources of assistance prior to accessing DRP assistance. Documentation is required from applicants to ensure that assistance is paid only for eligible uninsurable costs.
To enable DRP applicants to recover more quickly, the 2020 Disaster Assistance Guidelines (DAGs) include shortened program timelines to expedite the closure of DRPs, from five years in previous guidelines to three years. Applicants may request an extension if they experience project delays or are unable to submit the required documentation within the three-year timeline.
The Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) may provide a local authority applicant with an advance payment of up to 50 per cent of the eligible amount of requested assistance, if requested in writing by the community upon establishment of a DRP. Any subsequent requests for rolling advances must be supported by paid invoices from the applicant. For communities to receive an expedited final DRP payment, it is essential that they have completed their recovery projects and submitted all required records as indicated in the DAGs. Delays or discrepancies in project completion or the submission of requested documents result in final payment delays to the applicant.
The Disaster Assistance Guidelines ensure fair and transparent administration of DRPs and outline documentation requirements for applicants. The guidelines closely align with the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAAs) to maximize federal reimbursement and minimize the financial burden on Alberta taxpayers. Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada may provide cost-recovery funding for DRPs based on a progressive formula under the DFAAs.
In order to receive federal reimbursement, the province must pass a strict federal audit for each program and meet all documentation requirements. AEMA is looking for opportunities to reduce red tape for individuals and communities under the DRP. As part of these efforts, AEMA is advocating for changes to the DFAA guidelines that would reduce administrative burdens under the program.
RMA appreciates the Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) response outlining the several management strategies currently employed to mitigate elk depredation in agricultural areas. One initiative that has been undertaken has been implementing split seasons for antlerless elk in areas affected by significant agricultural damage. The implementation of the split season increases hunting pressure throughout the season, reduces hunter density, and increases the total harvest. AEP is hoping that split seasons will result in the elk population declining to a sustainable level which in turn increase harvest success in agricultural areas. AEP’s initiatives do not include increasing the number of antlerless elk draw season to a minimum of two per WMU or increasing the number of antlerless tags in WMUs. RMA assigns this resolution a status of Intent Not Met and will update the status of the resolution if there are any changes to elk hunting management.