Emergency order closes part of the registration elk hunt after domestic elk escape from Burton ranch

A number of domestic, Rocky Mountain elk escaped from privately-owned land known as the Kodiak Game Ranch & Cattle Company in Pasagshak toward the end of last week. As a result, the Department of Fish and Game released an emergency order on Sunday night closing a portion of the registration elk hunt. The area included in the emergency order is essentially everything east of Kalsin and Pasagshak Bays.

Emergency closure to registration elk hunt RE755 announced Sunday night. (Map courtesy Alaska Department of Fish & Game)

As of Monday, according to the Kodiak Fish and Game office, permitted hunters have reported seven elk taken in the Pasagshak area so far. Hunters have 48 hours from the time they get back from their trip to report successfully taken elk, so it’s possible that number could still rise. Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist John Crye said it was reasonable to assume that all seven came from the ranch, which is owned by the Burton family.

Christine Burton, whose husband Buck Burton operates the ranch, told KMXT on Monday that her husband found a temporary gate tied open and dirtbike tracks running in and out of their property, leading them to believe that someone broke in and herded the elk out. According to Christine, who is currently out of state, that was Thursday.

“There was signs of dirtbikes in and out and up and down that area,” she said. “So come to find out Friday morning a bunch of people came out, physically crossed our private property and went to the back hayfield, which is still on our lease — we lease 22,000 acres from the state — and started shooting. My husband followed them to find out that they were shooting elk.”

Christine said that’s when they found out that the herd had got out. According to her, the entire herd — about 90 elk — had escaped.

Neither wildlife troopers nor Fish & Game were able to confirm how the elk escaped from the Burton ranch. As of Monday evening, Christine said they’d managed to get about 40 elk back into the enclosure, and were working on corralling the remainder.

According to Fish and Game Region II Management Coordinator Jeff Selinger, the registration elk hunt is targeted at wild Roosevelt elk that occasionally swim to Kodiak Island from elsewhere in the archipelago. He says it’s unusual to find them in that area around Pasagshak.

Roosevelt elk. (Photo by Matthew Zalewski/Wikimedia Commons)
Rocky Mountain elk. (Photo by Joseph LaMonica/Flickr)

“It doesn’t mean that one could not get down there, one or two here or there, but I think it’s been several years since anything’s been harvested in the vicinity of that area,” he said.

Even so, one concern of having escaped Rocky Mountain elk in the area is that they might mix with wild Roosevelt elk.

Most elk ranches in Alaska are required to go through a certification process and register their animals as clean, Selinger said, but “That’s the one of the big issues that we deal with. If domestic and wild ungulates intermix, there’s a chance of disease getting spread to the wild populations.”

Under state law, when farmed elk and other similar game animals escape from confinement, owners have 48 hours to capture them before the state can step in. It’s something Fish and Game work with owners to handle, and at this point, according to troopers, there is no indication that the state will need to get involved.

This is a developing story, KMXT will have more information as it becomes available.

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