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GF&P Commission decides conservative better for elk

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OACOMA -- Her time chairing the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission ended three months ago, but Susie Knippling showed Thursday she hasn't lost her sway.

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Knippling, from Gann Valley, testified at the public hearing on Black Hills elk seasons. She called for the commission to play it safer on licenses than the state Wildlife Division recommended.

She said in her matter-of-fact way that the winter might prove to have been harder on elk populations than thought by some.

The commissioners, led by Jim Spies of Watertown, agreed with her and overrode their biologists' advice.

The biologists wanted to take 200 more antlerless elk out of the Black Hills as a way to ease the growth in population.

Instead, the commission granted just 75 more.

The commission voted 6-0 to keep the archery license numbers the same for this season at 92 any-elk and 15 antlerless rather than 40 antlerless.

And they agreed 6-0 to accept a 75-license increase for antlerless elk in the Black Hills rifle season, rather than the 175 that was proposed.

The Black Hills season will have 420 any-elk licenses and 250 antlerless licenses. Last year, those numbers were 445 and 175.

The additional antlerless licenses were proposed for Black Hills Elk Unit 2. It has a lot of public land.

"We have full confidence this not have any detrimental effect on our population objective for that unit," Wildlife Division official Chad Switzer told the commission.

"We're holding a significant number of elk in that unit," he said.

GF&P biologist Andy Lindbloom said he hasn't seen any evidence of increased winter mortality.

"They're pretty hardy animals," he said.

The Black Hills population currently is estimated at about 5,400 and would have grown to about 5,800 without any additional licenses, he said.

The proposals were designed to allow some growth while allowing a larger harvest, according to Lindbloom.

Game chief Tom Kirschenmann said the Wildlife Division is working on an elk management plan that will be delivered by the end of this year.

He said a population target hasn't been chosen yet but he noted that 6,000 has been mentioned.

License increases and reductions have been the main response to population changes.

"What we don't want to do is continue roller coaster rides," Kirschenmann said. Some elk from Wind Cave National Park have been driven back into Custer State Park next door.

The commission agreed with the biologists and increased the Custer State Park elk licenses by one each to five any-elk for rifle season and four any-elk for archery season.

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