SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California's elk population is on the rebound after nearly vanishing due to extensive hunting and habitat loss, and now the state is proposing a new management plan for the animals.
Currently each of the state's 22 isolated herds are monitored individually, using guidelines drafted in the 1980s. The draft Statewide Elk Conservation and Management Plan — released for public review last week — seeks to coordinate those efforts. The goal is to improve elks' genetic diversity and grazing lands — with an eye toward boosting herds by at least another 10 percent, the Mercury News reported Monday.
The elk population has steadily increased from 3,500 to 13,000 over four decades, according to the newspaper. State officials say the new plan provides a broader approach to expand, link and improve the scattered habitats.
"We had no comprehensive statewide plan for elk herds," said Joe Hobbs, a senior environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "This sets the foundation for future work and data collection."
Some herds may need to be reduced to bring them in better balance with their ecosystems and prevent damage to ranch fencing, according to the plan.
Other herds may need to expand through the introduction of new elk that boost genetic diversity and resiliency. And some herds could be better connected so that there's easier transit and new access to untraveled landscapes, the newspaper said.
The public comment period for the draft plan runs through Jan. 29, 2018.
Elk once roamed across much of California, from Mendocino County to the Tehachapi Mountains near Bakersfield, but hunting and human population growth throughout the 1800s nearly wiped out the species.