The study, which was published the Journal of Wildlife Management, reports that elk are, incredibly, 30% less active on public lands during the season.
They’ve instead, adapted by going to private lands, where written consent from a landowner is needed to hunt.
And not only did they move to private lands during the hunting season, but as soon as season was over, they almost immediately moved back to public lands.
The data is consistent too, as the report states, “Elk reduced use of public land in response to hunting during all three years of the study.”
See below for graphs that depict the pattern of elk movement over the three year study (AE indicates the onset of the hunting season).
You can see that as the season starts, the number of elk on public lands drops dramatically, and that by the end of season, the elk return, showing the same pattern across all three graphs (2015, 2016, and 2017).
The data directly supports the notion that elk altered their behavior to avoid hunting on public land by moving to private land, and the report shows that this is not the first time that this type of research has surfaced, stating, “Numerous responses of elk to hunter harvest have been documented, suggesting that elk are acutely aware of changes in the spatial and temporal nature of hunting.”
Elk have not only moved to private lands, but have reportedly been known to migrate farther from roads, or into dense vegetation.
So what are the implications?
Elk overpopulation has been a problem not just in Utah, but across many different ecosystems, damaging wildlife habitats as a result.
Utah, in particular, relies almost solely on humans to reduce elk population, with the purpose of establishing a more balanced ecosystem.
Private-land hunting was introduced in Utah in 2016 to help curb this issue, and the research finds that the distribution of elk has been more accessible to hunters ever since.
“Adequate hunter access is integral to management strategies,” the study reports. “In an increasingly urbanized world, accounting for issues involving private land will be pertinent to management of wildlife.”
Researchers believe that private land hunting is an effective solution to the problem.
The study shows that, although the pattern is consistent across all three years, the percentage of elk population that remained on public lands rose from 29% in 2015 to 42% in 2017.
More private land permits are available each year, and the landowners and hunters have both enjoyed benefits of the new program, providing a more balanced habitat for wildlife across the board.