Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife
Elk haven’t yet become as locally controversial as sea lions, but a time might come when fans and skeptics separate into the feuding camps that squabble over the salmon-chomping marine mammals.
Ask ranchers or farmers across much of the Northwest what they think of elk.
“They’re robbing feed that is intended for livestock,” said Veril Nelson, who ranches near Sutherlin. He estimates 50 to 60 elk dine on his pasture each night. A mature elk eats as much as a 600- to 700-pound steer, he said.
The elk problem has migrated to coastal towns such as Seaside, Gearhart and Warrenton, where the mushrooming population of elk has menaced citizens, torn up a golf course and caused traffic accidents. This will become more of an issue as human population pressures continue to expand into traditional elk range.
The problem isn’t confined to Oregon.
Near Salmon, Idaho, farmer Lowell Cerise told a newspaper last fall that elk were eating his hay crop. Near Challis, Idaho, elk have been raiding rancher Steve Bachman’s haystacks.
And in Skagit County, Washington, farmer Randy Good estimated in a letter to the editor that local farmers lose $10,000 to $15,000 a year from elk damaging their feed crops.
It appears that state wildlife managers across the Northwest have a problem — nearly 300,000 elk that live in the region. It’s an incredible success story for a species that was hunted down to a few small, coastal herds by the early 1900s.
It’s the states’ job to manage wildlife, but for some reason some wildlife agencies appear to be shy about doing that when it comes to these prized game animals. Feeding sites have been set up in some spots in northeastern Oregon, but overall there are just too many elk. They overrun ranches, farms, towns and anywhere else they find food.
Wildlife managers face an increasingly divided constituency of many citizens who cherish seeing wildlife and want it protected at all costs, versus other citizens who regard species including elk, sea lions and urban-colonizing Canada geese as nuisances rather than as community mascots. Many still see elk and geese as highly prized game animals. It has been suggested that extending the season on elk in many places would take care of the problem. Others say another solution would be to trap and kill some of the elk and donate the meat to food banks.
However, interest in hunting continues to wane, while anything looking like euthanasia is certain to stir up avid objections from animal-rights activists.
Ultimately, the vast majority of Northwest residents aren’t wildlife experts. Instead, we’ll look forward to wildlife managers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho coming up with an effective solution to the elk problem, and soon.