WARRENTON — There have been 49 police calls about elk over the past three years, Warrenton Police Sgt. Jim Pierce said. Most concerned the animals laying in the road, eating plants and trees, and damaging people’s property, but a few were about aggressive behavior.
Amid rising concerns of human and elk interaction, Warrenton Mayor Henry Balensifer organized a town hall with state wildlife and police officials Thursday. A similar town hall will be held in Gearhart.
Issues increase in the fall when males rut and in the spring when cows give birth. Balensifer recounted how his wife had been charged and pushed into the brush by an elk while jogging on the Warrenton Waterfront Trail.
The idea of an elk hunt had been discussed several years ago while redrawing urban waterfowl-hunting maps, Balensifer said. A new state pilot program starting next year would allow cities that declare deer a public nuisance to petition the state for help to reduce population levels, a strategy that could also be used against elk. But Thursday’s town hall was more about living with the elk.
Herman Biederbeck, biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the elk population is recovering from past hunting. There are about 6,000 in the Saddle Mountain Wildlife Management Unit covering most of Clatsop County, he said, including about 125 around Warrenton and more than 300 on the Clatsop Plains west of U.S. Highway 101.
About 400 bulls are taken each year from permitted hunting, he said, and the state has a goal of increasing the population to about 7,800 in the management unit.
Pierce and Oregon State Police Sgt. Joe Warwick reminded people of the importance of staying clear of elk and not feeding them. Feeding familiarizes the animals to humans and can lead to aggressive behavior. Warrenton has passed a no-feeding ordinance. Biederbeck has recommended a similar ordinance in Gearhart.
“Nearly all the feeding issues (in Warrenton) come from locals,” Pierce said.
The police are also trying to discourage people from blocking traffic to stop and take pictures of elk.
Residents have complained of feeling helpless in the face of herds that damage property and sometimes trap them.
“I have them in my yard constantly,” said Dixie Black, adding they have probably eaten thousands of dollars worth of plants.
North Coast Christian School teacher Kirstin Salmi said she often has to use a megaphone to scare away elk hanging out in the playground and endangering children. She has a hazing permit to scare elk, but said she needs more training in how best to frighten them.
While everyone enjoys seeing elk, said J.P. Jenkins, “let’s get the elk back in the woods. Let’s chase them out.”
Many elk come into the valleys and Clatsop Plains because the territory provides the best foraging, Biederbeck said. Past attempts at sterilization and relocation have proven ineffective.
Immediate safety issues involving elk are worthy of a 911 call, Pierce said. Police have removed and in some cases euthanized some problem elk. Balensifer also called on people to report others who are feeding elk to the police.
For preventing property damage, Biederbeck recommended fencing and a wide range of plants elk don’t eat. But to improve public safety requires changing human behavior, he said.
Balensifer will take feedback from the town hall to the Warrenton City Commission for a robust conversation about elk and human interaction, he said.