Elk could lose their status as a species of special concern under a new rule change proposed by the N.C. Wildlife Commission.
A public hearing on proposed changes to state hunting and fishing rules will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, at Southwestern Community College in Sylva. Organizations that provided financial support for the reintroduction of the elk are prepared to speak out against the proposed rule change.
It is illegal to shoot an elk — both inside the national park boundaries and outside the park. Despite a delisting as a species of special concern, elk would retain their status as a “non-game” animal, making hunting them illegal even if they wander outside protected national park lands.
Tom Massie of Jackson County said the proposal is causing a great deal of confusion, however, and questioned the rationale behind it.
“There have been a lot of people who have spent a lot of time and effort and money to get the elk herd reestablished,” Massie said. “It is a huge economic draw for this region of the state. Why even do it right now?”
Massie said he would like to see the state do a management plan for the species to compliment the national park’s management plan. Elk are frequently wandering out of the park and are beginning to establish satellite herds.
The Wildlife Commission cites the success of the elk restoration project and growth of the herd, which makes the listing no longer necessary.
“This is primarily an administrative change,” said Brad Howard, private lands program coordinator for the Wildlife Commission. “There is no documented evidence we need to have a special concern status on the elk species right now.”
Howard said the move will mirror the national park’s change in status expected later this year, which will shift from “experimental release” to an official “reintroduction.”
“The park has said ‘OK it worked. Let’s see if this population will sustain itself in Western North Carolina,’” Howard said.
Hunting, fishing regs undergo annual review
Every year, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission suggests adjustments to their regulations to accommodate hunters and fishermen while protecting natural resources.
Public input can be made at one of nine hearings held statewide, including one at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13, at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, or in writing.
Go to www.ncwildlife.org and click on submit comments online. Scroll down to see the list of proposed changes and click to comment. The deadline to comment is Jan. 22.
After collecting and considering all public comments, the Wildlife Commission will meet in March to decide whether or not to adopt the proposals.
• Elk — Proposal would remove elk from the list of species of Special Concern. The only elk in the state are found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park after being reintroduced to the park. Hunting elk would still be illegal within the park.
• Bobcat and otter — Trappers would no longer have to get tags for bobcat and otters they intend to sell. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is no longer requiring tags for bobcats and otter being sold for commercial purposes, so the state wildlife commission aims to follow suit.
• Armadillo — While armadillo aren’t native to North Carolina, they are beginning to crop up and are being considered a nuisance by the wildlife commission. There is no game law that applies to armadillos, and this proposal aims to set up a year-round open season on armadillos with no bag limits.
• Franks Creek in Graham County — Proposal would end stocking and ban use of live bait under a new designation as Wild Trout/Natural Bait waters.
• Tellico River in Cherokee County — Proposal would ban use of natural bait and allow artificial lures only under new designation of Wild Trout waters.
• Nantahala River and tributaries in Macon and Clay counties upstream of Nantahala Lake — Proposal would end the exemption that allows fishing during closed season on hatchery supported waters.
• West Fork Pigeon River in Haywood County — Proposal would end stocking on the upper 3.7 miles of currently Hatchery-Supported waters and re-designate as Wild Trout Waters, which would ban live or natural bait, lower the daily limit from 7 to 4, and impose a minimum catch size of 7 inches. The change will better protect the wild brown trout population. The lower 1.7 miles will remain Hatchery-Supported Trout Waters.
• French Broad River — Proposal would decrease the size limit on muskies from 46 inches to 42 inches. Regulation dovetails with statewide rule change to set minimum size limit on muskies at 42 inches and one fish daily catch limit.
The move will conserve spawning stock by protecting 4- to 5-year-old sexually mature fish.