By Alex McCuaig
Southern Alberta Newspapers
A landholder who neighbours CFB Suffield said he gives provincial and base officials an “A” for effort in trying to bring the exploding population of elk under control, but still thinks more needs to be done.
But Jeff Lewandoski, who ranches and farms on property along the northern border of the base, has a piece of advice for the incoming Suffield base commander who officially took the reins Thursday.
“Consult with the area ranchers and keep this issue alive,” said Lewandoski.
“Don’t put it off because it’s something that if you put off for one year, we’ve lost all the ground that we’ve just made up in the last couple of years. It’s something that has to keep going.”
The Suffield elk herd – believed to be one of the largest in the country – began modestly in 1997 with 132 transplanted animals from Elk Island National Park. That was followed by 90 more the following year.
The herd was allowed to grow unchecked by Department of Defence and provincial officials until 2012 when the first hunt was organized to curtail the 5,600 elk the province now estimates inhabit the base. And it’s that exponential growth which has led to conflict with ranchers and farmers who say the elk are knocking down fences and eating crops.
Lewandoski believes more elk were born this year with the 2014-2015 hunt at CFB Suffield then were harvested.
“We’re not even cutting into the growth,” said Lewandoski.
He said he does appreciate the effort being put into addressing the issue by both the province and base but believes the area ranchers need to have a seat at the table in discussing possible solutions.
“I think they need to open their ears a little bit. We’ve been dealing with these elk for 18, 19 years. We do know something about them.”
According to provincial Alberta Environment officials, 1,332 elk were harvested during the 2014-2015 hunting season on the base.
This year there will be 700 antlered elk licences and 700 double-tagged antlerless licences available for seven hunts within CFB Suffield scheduled between the beginning of November to the end of January.
Another 125 licences will be issued for antlered elk and 250 for antlerless for five hunts within the wildlife management units directly bordering the base.