Elk hardly seem to be wild animals. They are the most managed big game animal in Elko County. More people have spent more hours on more committees planning the management of elk than any other mammal. They also generate and require large amounts of money.
Elk are native to this area, although they were few in number when settlers arrived. Early newspaper articles mention elk. The 1888 Tuscarora Times states a sheepherder killed a 400-pound elk. But by 1900, elk were extinct in Elko County.
In 1932, 30 elk were transplanted into White Pine County. Elko County saw the return of elk soon after 1946, when Utah transplanted elk onto Pilot Peak. The western half of Pilot Peak is in this county. Our first regular elk hunting season was in 1984 when five bull tags were given out near Pilot Peak.
Since mule deer and pronghorn antelope have always been more common than elk, landowners are used to their presence. The re-introduction of elk has required much more intense management and coordination with landowners.
Ten years of negotiations with the livestock industry resulted in the first elk transplanted into the Jarbidge Mountains in 1990. Ranchers were concerned with possible damage to their private lands. The 1990s saw 100 elk released along the county’s northern edge, which increased to 300 by 1995, when the first antlerless hunt was held with eight tags. In 2000, further negotiations increased the management level to 1,000.
An elk management plan amendment was put into place for eastern Elko County, calling for a management level of 2,200 elk. In 1996, elk were transplanted to Spruce Mountain and the Snake Range. Two more management plans followed, for the Bruneau River and the western county. These led to several more being developed across the state. Elk are the only big game animal with population objectives.
Ranches receive incentive elk tags based on the number of elk that regularly use their private rangelands. Each year, about 70 incentive tags are given out and, on average, each ranch that has elk gets maybe one to three tags. Some tags are filled by ranch personnel but most are sold for roughly $8,000-$10,000 each. A rough estimate is that Nevada ranchers make as much off elk tags as the Nevada Department of Wildlife makes from its elk tag program.
A depredation fund has been built up, funded through elk tag applications. Since 1992, NDOW has built 90 miles of elk-proof fencing to protect alfalfa fields and has paid $323,587 for 86 damage claims.
From the beginning, ranchers around the Ruby Mountains have been opposed to the re-introduction of elk in the Rubies. The Rubies already hold the state’s largest mule deer herd. NDOW has made the Rubies and East Humboldt Range an “elk restricted” zone. Today, elk occupy areas surrounding the Rubies and naturally move into these mountains. It is estimated the Rubies hold 50-100 elk but NDOW holds regular hunts to keep their numbers down. The ranchers around the Rubies do not receive incentive tags.