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Our view: Solve persistent Northwest elk problems

Wildlife managers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho need to come up with an effective solution to the elk problem, and soon.

Published on March 5, 2018 5:17PM

Ten state-managed feeding sites along the Elkhorn Range in northeastern Oregon are intended to keep elk and deer from venturing onto private land where they can damage fields, fences and haystacks. Many ranchers across the Northwest report losing tens of thousands of dollars to elk damage.

Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

Ten state-managed feeding sites along the Elkhorn Range in northeastern Oregon are intended to keep elk and deer from venturing onto private land where they can damage fields, fences and haystacks. Many ranchers across the Northwest report losing tens of thousands of dollars to elk damage.


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 Warrenton and Gearhart, 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 expand into traditional elk range.

The problem isn’t confined to Oregon.

Near Salmon, Idaho, farmer Lowell Cerise told the 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, Wash., 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 to us that state wildlife managers across the Northwest have a problem: the 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 its 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 here in northeastern Oregon, but overall there are just too many elk. They overrun ranches, farms, towns and anywhere else they find food.

The irony is that many hunters see elk as a highly prized game animal. It would seem that extending the season on elk in many places would take care of the problem. Another solution would be to trap and kill some of the elk and donate the meat to food banks.

But we’re not 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.



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