Nebraska Rancher, Hunters Collide Over Elk

Elk herd in Yellowstone ( USNPS )

A Nebraska rancher who claims elk caused more than $100,000 in damage to his crops has been granted 50 depredation permits to thin the herd roaming his land.

The decision to grant the permits by Nebraska’s Game and Parks Commission has stirred a controversy between the agency, the landowner, State Sen. Steve Erdman and hunters.

According to a report in the Omaha World-Herald, senator Erdman pressed Nebraska Game and Parks on behalf of rancher Butch Schuler of Bridgeport, and the permits were approved to allow “shooters” to kill up to 50 of the elk.

Some hunters are outraged by the decision as only 374 elk permits were granted in Nebraska this year while Game and Parks received 5,300 applications. State surveys suggest the number of elk in the state is 2,500 to 3,000, but some believe the population is much higher.

Schuler addressed a September public hearing in Scottsbluff of the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee that was created to examine how the state is handling big game wildlife management. It was there Schuler reported the estimate of $100,000 in damage to his corn crop by a herd of elk estimated at 100. He provided drone video that showed extensive crop damage.

Hunters have called the decision to grant so many permits to one landowner “extreme,” and one hunter told the Omaha World Herald: “As a concerned sportsman and outdoorsman, this decision hits an all-time frustration with how our wildlife in the state is being managed by the Game and Parks Commission.” Others have complained the permits do not allow hunters to participate in the herd thinning.

So far, only five cows and three bulls have been killed since the special permits were issued. The permits stipulate the shooters are vetted by Game and Parks and the meat from animals harvested is donated, in this case to families in the area.

Nebraska Game and Parks director Jim Douglas told the World-Herald the agency has received seven to nine complaints about elk damage, and the only other elk depredation permit issued was for six cows.

As for why Schuler was granted 50 permits, Douglas said the agency needed to respond to the severe damage.

“We did not want anyone to believe that we weren’t responding in the right proportion to the situation,” Douglas said. “We also know it was highly unlikely that anything approaching that number would actually be killed. Which has proven to be the case.’’

Officials said Game and Parks is trying to maintain a balance between healthy wildlife populations, recreational hunting and social tolerance for big game management in Nebraska. Hunting is the preferred method of action to keep numbers down.