Elk Management

Elk Cow 512x312

Once rare on the Refuge and surrounding lands, over 300 elk dubbed the "Hangman Creek sub-herd" now roam the area.

During the fall hunting season, the refuge became a sanctuary for the elk resulting in a negative impact of heavy browsing of young aspen and other deciduous shrubs and trees on the refuge.  Damage to hay and other agricultural crops, fences and ornamental shrubs occurred on surrounding private lands. Hunting is one of the six priority refuge public uses identified in the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act (NWRSIA) of 1997. The growing elk population is adequate to provide high quality hunting opportunities while maintaining elk on the refuge for other priority public uses. Opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography may actually increase as a result of elk being pushed out of the hunting area and into adjacent refuge areas closed to hunting. Because of these reasons plus interest from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and other hunting advocates, refuge staff decided to propose a special permit elk hunt in the Turnbull NWR Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP).    


Process to Open a New Hunt on a National Wildlife Refuge 

Refuge staff complete several steps in the process to open a refuge to hunting. Generally hunting is one of several uses addressed in a refuge comprehensive conservation plan. Turnbull Refuge completed their CCP in March 2007. Public input was sought and received throughout this planning process. The CCP identified goals, objectives, and strategies that Turnbull will use for a 15-year period. The decision to have these two hunts, for elk and youth waterfowl, was made in the Final CCP.
In addition to the CCP, the refuge developed a Hunt Plan, Environmental Assessment and  Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), Endangered Species Act Section 7 evaluation, and draft regulations for the proposed hunts in late 2008. Public comment was sought, received, and incorporated to these documents and forwarded to the Regional Fish and Wildlife Service Office. 
Regional staff reviewed the documents and submitted them to the Washington Office on January 30, 2009. The public has additional opportunities to comment on the proposed hunts through the Federal rulemaking or regulatory process. The proposed rule or regulation will be published in the Federal Register later this year. The public can provide written comments during this comment period. Often the proposed rule becomes the final rule with some modification. Once the final rules are published in the Federal Register, they become part of the Code of Federal Regulations and the hunts can legally open.
Litigation related to refuge hunting has resulted in increased legal scrutiny of refuge hunting programs and increased workload associated with hunt openings.