A damage control permit allowing a Morrill County landowner to take up to 50 elk that have been destroying his corn crop, and one state senator’s involvement in the issue, have generated some questions and concerns among hunters and others in the Panhandle.
Following presentations by that landowner and others about wildlife damage to agriculture interests at a mid-September Legislative hearing, Game and Parks Director James Douglas told Natural Resources Committee members that more would be done regarding wildlife control.
Before NGPC officials granted the permit, State Senator Steve Erdman told KNEB he did contact the agency about the plight of the Bridgeport-area cattle producer, but did not direct them on what the permit should allow. “That was their (NGPC) decision, all I called and asked them to do was to give that rancher some relief from the damage he received. I’ve been getting emails, calls and texts about how stupid I am, that I don’t understand wildlife management, but I did not make that decision.”
Both Erdman and NGPC Wildlife Division Administrator Alicia Hardin say the producer had reported crop damage in the past due to elk, with the Senator noting that the estimated damage this year was valued at least $100,000, no small figure and more than the landowner was paying in annual property taxes.
Hardin tells KNEB News the number of elk plaguing the rancher was estimated at approximately 100, and the permit was issued following an inspection of the damage that included review of drone footage.
Hardin says options were presented to the landowner, including an offer for NGPC sharp-shooters to cull the herd, prior to the decision granting the damage control permit. She notes that the depredation tag does come with restrictions: no trophies are allowed, with any antlers to be turned in to the Commission, the meat must be offered for human consumption, the landowner must identify any additional shooters in coordination and review with the commission, and the landowner cannot benefit commercially from the taking of animals under the permit. The permit is good for 90 days, but does not expire when the agriculture producer or landowner has taken their crop off their fields.
In social media forums and through contacts to KNEB, hunting and wildlife interests expressed anger and frustration with the permit. According to statistics from the NGPC website, a total of 50 elk permits, 20 for bulls and 30 antlerless permits, were granted in the draw for the 2019 hunting season for the North Platte River Elk Unit. The unit includes nearly all of the southern half of the Panhandle, nearly half of Keith, Arthur and Grant Counties plus small portions of Sioux, Box Butte and Sheridan counties.
Across the entire state, 4,463 applications were received for a total of 77 bull elk permits, and 166 antlerless tags available to Nebraska residents. Limited Landowner permits accounted for another 38 bull and 83 antlerless tags statewide, with the North Platte River unit accounting for 10 and 15 of those respective permits.
Hardin says it’s unlikely that 50 elk will be killed on the Morrill County landowner’s property, as once hunters begin shooting and human activity picks up in areas where the herd has been staying, the animals are likely to move off the affected property.
Hardin also says it’s really a balancing act in trying to manage the state’s wildlife populations, the desires of the hunting community and the rights of landowners. especially if landowners close their land off from hunters. She says areas open to hunting, such public lands, wildlife management areas and private property where access is granted, tend to see fewer problems with large numbers of wildlife causing significant damage to crops. However, she also says it’s the landowner’s right to either allow hunting or not, and if it is allowed, to set terms the hunter must meet, including any costs for access or if a trophy animal is taken.
Even with the animals that will be harvested through depredation permit, Hardin says there are plenty of elk in Nebraska for the state’s hunters to have their shot at a trophy, or to put meat on their family’s table.