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The subject of elk seems to be following me wherever I go these days. For those of you who may not be aware of the problem, the elk population in the Panhandle has grown out of control in the last few years and they are causing a lot of damage to property.
My position has always been to manage the elk population through responsible hunting. Every year that I have been in office as a State Senator, for example, I have asked the Game & Parks Division to increase the number of elk tags for hunters. I have never once asked Game & Parks to issue depredation permits. Depredation permits allow landowners to thin out the elk herds on their land by shooting animals deemed to be a problem.
Unfortunately, the unfounded rumor has spread all across the State of Nebraska that I somehow leaned on the Game & Parks Division and pressed them to release depredation permits to landowners. I have done no such thing. This rumor is false. So today I would like to set the record straight.
The decision to issue depredation permits to a certain landowner in Morrill County was made by the Game & Parks Division on September 19. Eight days later, on September 27th, I sent aerial photographs of the property damage via email to the Game & Parks Division along with a request to give this particular landowner some “help” very soon. Now, I hope you can see that the word ‘help’ does not connote the words ‘depredation permits’. Had I been asked about the solution to the problem, I would have recommended increasing the number of elk tags, just as I have done every year that I have been in office.
The decision to issue depredation permits was entirely a decision made by the Game & Parks Division the day after their public hearing in Scottsbluff on September 18. The Game & Parks Division decided to issue depredation permits to this particular landowner on September 19. Below is a slightly edited version of the email response I received from the Game & Parks Division showing how they talked to the landowner shortly after the public hearing. I have edited the email only to remove names and personal information:
“Senator, We have attempted to contact Mr. — and offered via his wife to provide kill permits. Our local District Manager talked to him about depredation permits after the hearing last week. Please have him call — regarding issuance of kill permits, which we will provide. We will also be letting our staff in the area go to his place with kill permits and ready to shoot elk if he wants them allowed.”
Now, this whole scenario could have been avoided with proper elk management by the Game & Parks Division. Had the Game & Parks Division issued greater numbers of elk tags in the past, as I had urged them to do, the size of the elk herds never would have increased to the level of necessitating 50 depredation permits for a single landowner.
The lack of proper wildlife management by the Game & Parks Division has led to the kind of situation in the Panhandle where everyone has now lost. The landowners have lost because the elk have eaten their crops, destroyed their fences, and defecated on their hay. Meanwhile, the issuing of depredation permits means that hunters will lose their opportunity to pursue more of their game of choice.
While I cannot control where people get their news, I hope you will understand that I have never asked the Game & Parks Division to issue depredation permits. Please know that my solution to the elk problem has always been better elk management by the Game & Parks Division, especially through the issuing of more elk tags for hunters. While I have been wrongfully accused of politicizing the elk problem in Nebraska, the truth is that had I acted for political gain, I would have chosen to do nothing. This issue will only be resolved through a collaborative effort by everyone involved. Therefore, I am looking forward to resolving this problem collectively.
Finally, if you have concerns about the issuing of depredation permits, I encourage you to call the Game and Parks Division.