For North Coast officials seeking answers to health, safety and property concerns caused by elk, wildlife biologist Herman Biederbeck of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is the first point of contact.
This year, Gearhart officials and residents again seek to find solutions to a growing herd and what they say is a health, safety and property damage issue for visitors and residents.
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Q: What can the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife do to manage elk in Gearhart?
Biederbeck: We’re looking at all the options before us to deal with elk damage issues on the golf courses. As you can imagine, with public opinion on the elk divided and somewhat polarized, it makes it very difficult to come up with a cohesive universal strategy that everyone will support. We’re trying to work with individuals that have problems with the elk in light of that. We’re working with the golf course interests. They have some very specific thoughts on how to deal with the elk issue. We want a more comprehensive approach, so we’re at a little bit of a standstill there.
Q: What would a “more comprehensive approach” entail?
Biederbeck: We came up with a suggested list of different options that could perhaps help deal with this issue. They tend to emphasize precluding access by the elk to the golf courses, because we believe the golf courses present a large attraction for the elk. It’s one of the reasons they’re hanging around there. The golf courses are considered by the elk as large forage areas.
If we could get the golf courses protected so that the elk aren’t going in there any more, we believe there’s a reasonably good chance the elk will leave, because there isn’t the forage base to support them.
Q: What do you consider to be a property owner’s best option?
Biederbeck: We’re not saying it’s the most viable, but we’re putting fences out as an option for consideration.
Q: Could you fence off the greens?
Biederbeck: The city has a 6-foot fence ordinance. We’ve talked of a double fence. The concept is to use horizontal distance instead of vertical height to preclude the elk out of the golf course areas.
Q: Wouldn’t the elk get stuck between the fences?
Biederbeck: The thought is to have the fences the right distance apart so the elk couldn’t negotiate both fences with a single leap. Elk have the ability to look at a fence situation to determine if they can clear it or get over it.
Q: How has the fence suggestion been received?
Biederbeck: The golf course interests lean to trapping and relocating, which has a number of challenges. If we start looking at things that affect the public in Gearhart, like removing the elk, we have to involve the public in any process like that.
They have to make a decision on how they feel about a larger public process to even consider something like trapping and relocation, which, again, I cannot stress enough, has major challenges.
Q: How did the herd grow so fast?
Biederbeck: Five or seven years ago, it seemed like another 50 or so elk showed up from somewhere. My guess is from the north where more development has been occurring.
While we have no way to prove that — we didn’t have elk radio-collared or deer tagged — we have noticed the number of elk complaints from further north dropped about the same time the elk showed up in the Gearhart/Seaside area.
Q: Could we see a shift?
Biederbeck: A lot of it depends on what kind of land use goes on there. There could be something that changes, that draws the elk away from Seaside and Gearhart and reduces the number of elk there. A lot of it depends on what kind of land uses occur in and around that area.
Q: How do you track the elk?
Biederbeck: We did an experimental drone project with Oregon State University last winter in the Youngs River area to look at the efficacy of using drones to survey elk. For some surveys, what you buy off the shelf works pretty well. For other types of survey work, you need something with better optics. It turned out to be pretty much of a mixed bag. This was our first investigation here in western Oregon to use drones to survey elk. We didn’t have any notion that this project would answer all our questions. As usual with an issue like this, some additional questions and follow-up are required.
Q: Do you have numbers on the elk herd?
Biederbeck: Our wildlife management unit manages our elk herds. Clatsop County, Columbia County and part of Tillamook County are in the Saddle Mountain unit. Our management goal is 7,800 elk in that area. We’re a little below that. We have had some excessive antler-less elk issues that have just been addressed, so the expectations that the elk population will recover and be closer to that 7,800 figure.
Q: Is it likely that wolves or other predators will return?
Biederbeck: That’s a good question. Wolves have shown themselves to be pretty adaptable. They do get into trouble, especially with livestock operations, but it’s hard to say. They may end up inhabiting the North Coast. They just have to get through some barriers, like the Willamette Valley and I-5 to do that.
We have no confirmed sightings of wolves anywhere near the North Coast yet.
R.J. Marx is The Daily Astorian’s South County reporter and editor of the Seaside Signal and Cannon Beach Gazette.