Voluntary incentive program seeks to create new opportunities for landowners, elk hunters

FRANKFORT, Ky. – April 29, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Kentucky’s elk zone encompasses more than 4.1 million acres in 16 counties and a new program developed by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources strives to make more of that land accessible to the public during the elk hunting seasons.

The Voucher Cooperator Elk Permit Program offers private landowners and lessees an incentive for volunteering to open their land for elk hunter access: an elk tag of their own. The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission proposed the framework for the program late last year.

Kentucky held its first elk hunt in 2001 when Kentucky Fish and Wildlife issued just 12 quota elk permits. The number of permits issued annually through the elk quota hunt draw has increased to 900 general permits and 10 youth permits as the herd has grown to an estimated 10,000 animals in the years since.

Hunter success rates remain high overall but some traditional hunting areas in the elk zone aren’t holding the numbers they once did.

“We’ve got to have more places for people to go and essentially spread out hunting pressure,” said John Hast, deer and elk program biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “We’re seeing fewer elk on the traditional elk areas with lots of public land around them because they have just been hunted hard now for years. The elk essentially have been run off those open areas where you could routinely go out and see 100 elk in an evening and are using the woods a lot more.”

The department has used Limited Entry Areas (LEA) in recent years to manage the harvest of elk on areas with large tracts of public land and heavy elk hunting pressure. But unless private land becomes available for elk hunter access, biologists believe the hunting pressure will be unsustainable on those areas.

Enter the Voucher Cooperator Elk Permit Program, which is separate from and does not change the landowner cooperator elk permit system already in place. Any landowner or lessee with at least 100 acres in the elk zone would be eligible to enroll in the new incentive program.

Each enrolled voucher property would have a set limit of hunters allowed on the land at any point in the elk hunting season. That number would stem from biologists’ recommendations, voucher cooperator input, and the number of elk using the area.

“Accessing some of that timbered land around the traditional elk hunting areas, I think, would provide productive hunting,” Hast said.

In exchange for volunteering to allow elk hunting access on their property, the voucher cooperator would accumulate points toward a Kentucky elk tag for each elk successfully harvested on their property by drawn hunters.

The voucher cooperator would be credited two points for bull elk and one point for cow elk harvested on their property. Points do not expire and may be accrued over multiple years. Upon accumulating 20 points, the landowner or lessee of the property would receive one voucher elk permit, which would be transferable and valid for either sex on any land the landowner or lessee owns or leases in the elk zone the next season. Any points left over would remain as a balance for the landowner or lessee to put toward a future tag.

Voucher cooperators would have the option to close elk hunting access during other hunting seasons, such as deer and bear seasons. And enrolling doesn’t preclude the voucher cooperator from inviting others to hunt the land. However, only elk harvested by hunters signed up to hunt on the property would count toward the point total.
“Each landowner will have tons of control over how things are done,” Hast said.

Beyond the incentive to landowners and lessees, and expanded opportunity for hunters, biologists envision the new program spurring habitat improvement on private land and helping mitigate elk nuisance issues while fostering relationships between landowners and elk hunters.

“Landowners out there want to be in the elk game,” Hast said. “This program involves them in the process while they work toward what is one of the most sought-after hunting opportunities in Kentucky.”
Interested landowners and lessees may contact Hast by calling Kentucky Fish and Wildlife at 1-800-858-1549 to learn more about the Voucher Cooperator Elk Permit Program.

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