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Elk, cougar, mule deer affected by new regulations

With autumn fast approaching, the provincial government is encouraging hunters to be aware of the latest changes to the regulations before the season opens.

The latest regulation guide, complete with specific information for regions across the province, is out on the shelves, while a version with the most up-to-date information also exists online.

However, there are a few big changes hunters should be aware of this season, according to Tara Szkorupa, a senior wildlife biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Management Branch based in Cranbrook.

Among the major changes of note involve elk, cougar and mule deer species.

For elk, there have been heavy restrictions put in place for antlerless — cow and calf — hunting opportunities in the south trench area stretching from Canal Flats to the U.S. border.

"Those changes are to reduce the harvest on cow or calf elk because we had population decline by about 35 per cent over the last five years, so we're trying to really minimize the harvest on the cow and calf elk," said Szkorupa.

“There’s some very limited antlerless and there’s some very limited general open seasons on private land, but most of the hunting will be through limited entry hunt (LEH) for this year.”

However, in light of the restrictions, there are still a few hunting opportunities available, she added.

“We did extend the bow season for antlerless elk and the intent for that was to continue to provide hunting opportunities while minimizing harvest,” Szkorupa said.

While antlerless elk have restrictions, there is a spike bull season in the south trench.

“This is something that we’ve had for a while to still have hunting opportunity, but when the harvest is focused on the male population, it doesn’t have as much impact on population trend,” Szkorupa said. “So we’re still maintaining that spike bull season so if people are looking for an opportunity for elk hunting, that’s still a good option for people in the trench.”

Mule deer are also facing restrictions, as any buck season is being replaced with a four-point buck season that will end on Nov. 10th. The change comes after meeting with hunters around the region to create a mule deer management plan.

“There was some concerns from some people about low buck ratios in some areas, so that was the main reason for switching the season for mule deer,” said Szkorupa.

Overall, the regional mule deer population is in decline, and biologists haven’t figured out why.

“It’s different in different areas, but overall, populations are down from a year ago. We’re actually just about to start on a big research project, putting radio collars out on mule deer and trying to understand the reasons behind the decline,” she said.

“So that’s going to be a big priority for us over the next few years because there has been some pretty dramatic declines in the populations and we’re not sure how much of that is due to habitat or predation or other factors.”

While there are changes to the mule deer season, it’s business as usual for whitetail season. Szkorupa added that biologists are keeping an eye on the whitetail deer population.

“We had a spike in the female harvest in 2012 when we made some changes to the bag limit. But in 2013, that appeared to drop off, so we’re within our target harvest right now for whitetail, so we decided to maintain the seasons as they are right now,” Szkorupa said. “But it is something we’re monitoring and we’re going to be working on this management statement and trying to really articulate what our objectives are for whitetail deer and we’ll be reassessing the seasons in a couple years.”

Outside of hunting for ungulates, there have been changes to the cougar season, which has been lengthened due to population increases, while a female quota has been removed.

“That’s because the populations appear to increasing in a lot of areas and we feel that a higher harvest can be sustained,” Szkorupa said. “…But we’re still maintaining a female quota in some areas that have a high hunting pressure. In the areas that do have a lot of hunters and a lot of interesting cougar hunting, we are maintaining more restrictive seasons to ensure that we don’t over harvest cougars in those areas.”

Szkorupa adds that along with hunting changes, there have also been new motor vehicle access restrictions put in place in a few hunting areas across the region. She suggests picking up a copy of the latest hunting regulations for more specific details on both the new hunting regulations and motor vehicle access restrictions. More information can also be found online at: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/wildlife/hunting/regulations.

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