JEWELL — Onlookers are usually cautioned not to approach or feed the elk herds that pop up along highways and fields around the urban centers of the North Coast.
But preschoolers at Jewell School spent a snowy Wednesday morning riding through the Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area, dropping bricks of alfalfa off the sides of a tractor-trailer for the 300 or so elk who inhabit the refuge.
“The wildlife area was established primarily for viewing and education purposes, which this tour serves,” said Charlie Chamberlain, a senior technician in the wildlife area who helped facilitate the tour Wednesday.
“And then the second reason is to keep these elk in the field for longer. We have a lot of issues with damage on our surrounding landowners, so the more we can keep the elk in this field, the better off they’ll be. They’re not causing problems for anyone else.”
The 3 to 5 pounds of alfalfa per elk dropped on the field covers about one-quarter to one-third of their daily diet, said Bryan Swearingen, the wildlife area manager in Jewell.
“We’ll continue to feed these elk on an irregular basis until the grass starts to grow,” Swearingen said.
The alfalfa is trucked in from Eastern Oregon, so as to taste different from what local elk are used to in the fields. Feeding continues until the elk become disinterested, by which point wildlife managers know nature has taken over for the season.
The special visit by the preschoolers Wednesday was the last in a series of popular feeding tours the state offers between December and February that usually draw around 1,000 people annually.
Swearingen warns people to register early. His office had around 1,100 people reserved for the tours within the first seven hours of registration last December.