GEARHART — A new state pilot program intended to control the urban deer population could help cities like Gearhart cull the elk herds that roam the North Coast.
Cities that declare deer a public nuisance can petition the state Department of Fish and Wildlife for help to reduce population levels starting next January.
“It’s not specifically about elk,” Doug Cottam, the state wildlife division administrator, said at a Gearhart City Council meeting last Wednesday. “It lays out a very good pathway for a community like this when considering something as controversial as lethally removing animals from an urban area.”
The state has to adopt rules for how deer would be taken, but the law that created the pilot program specifies that darts or lethal injection are prohibited. Any deer harvested would be shared to the extent feasible with local food banks or other charities.
“In this case, it’s designed to have the cities have their own agents kill the deer in their own way or manner to have the deer salvaged for charity so they don’t go to waste,” Cottam said.
City Attorney Peter Watts said the pilot program could be an “advocacy opportunity” for opponents or proponents of culling elk.
Department of Fish and Wildlife officials came to Gearhart last week at the city’s request amid growing concerns about elk.
“We want to get as much specific information as possible to continue to educate and mitigate some of these safety issues,” Mayor Matt Brown said.
Herman Biederbeck, a state wildlife biologist who manages the elk herds within the Saddle Mountain Wildlife Management Unit, said about 5,500 elk populate Clatsop County.
In Gearhart, there are about 75 animals, he added, a number that fluctuates as the herd ranges from the city limit with Seaside to Sunset Beach State Recreation Site.
Biederbeck urged a no-feeding policy for the elk and signs to alert residents and tourists of elk concerns. He suggested having law enforcement or city employees intervene when people are improperly interacting with elk.
“Even a dog on a leash — if you get too close with a dog — elk do not like dogs,” he said. “Dogs are a lightning rod for elk.”
Hazing elk is permissible within city limits, after a homeowner acquires a permit from the state. Using a leaf blower, pots and pans or a broom to shoo away animals does not require a permit.
“That’s a totally different matter if you own a farm or golf course and you try to drive them off,” Biederbeck said. “That’s a classic situation where you would need a permit.”
Relocation of the herd was generally rejected by wildlife officials at the meeting. “Tracking and relocating elk has several challenges,” Biederbeck said.
Some of the challenges involve a lack of places to move the animals and the potential spread of disease. After trapping some elk, the remaining elk become “trap shy,” he said. Trapping efforts are also often sabotaged by residents who oppose the idea.
A disease called elk hoof rot has emerged in northern Oregon, Cottam said. “We do not want to move and spread this disease,” he said. “If there was any time to move elk, I believe that time is past.”
With a town hall meeting scheduled for Warrenton on Thursday, concerns about elk are moving well beyond Gearhart.
“Maybe it’s time to look at Clatsop Plains in general,” Biederbeck said. “Do we take them on each individually? Or do we maybe look beyond those municipalities?”