JACKSON, Wyoming — The population of the Jackson Elk Herd is right where wildlife managers want it, but the animals aren't in places where wildlife managers want them.
Aerial counts done recently found about 10,600 elk using feedgrounds and foraging native range in the Jackson area of northwest Wyoming.
To account for those that were missed biologists rounded-up the count to 11,000, which precisely their objective for the herd.
But the whereabouts of the herd are less than ideal, with surplus animals on the National Elk Refuge and only one-third of the desired number of elk wintering in upper portions of the Gros Ventre River drainage.
"For the entire herd we're right there, numbers-wise, but we continue to have challenges trying to distribute elk where we'd like them to be during the wintertime," said Aly Courtemanch, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist who keeps tabs on the Jackson Elk Herd.
Overall the Jackson herd fell by about 4 percent compared to a year ago, when it was assessed at 11,500 elk.
About 1,160 elk were counted in the Gros Ventre area. It is the lowest tally in a dozen years of record keeping for that area. The "soft goal" for the wintering elk population in the Gros Ventre stands at 3,500.
Conversely, numbers on the National Elk Refuge came in at 8,390, about 68 percent higher than the 5,000-animal objective. The refuge was feeding as many elk as it has any time in 17 years.
It's not clear if elk from the Gros Ventre are spending winter on the refuge.
"We don't have any really strong radio collar data or observational data to pinpoint exactly where those elk went," Courtemanch told the Jackson Hole News & Guide (http://bit.ly/1Gr2MoN).
High birth rates might have played a role in the surplus of elk on the refuge, she said.
Courtemanch and colleagues are now going through the process to set hunting seasons for this fall. She anticipated few changes outside of tweaks to season start and end dates.
Game and Fish's annual public season setting meeting has been set for March 26. The meeting will cover not only Jackson Hole's elk but also local herds of bison, moose, deer and bighorn sheep.
Information from: Jackson Hole (Wyo.) News And Guide, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com