The Grant County Farm Bureau is seeking a change to help reduce elk damage.

JOHN DAY — The Grant County Farm Bureau called on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to expand the boundaries of a pilot program allowing for elk damage hunts on private land to encompass all Grant County private lands.

In a Sept. 1. press release, the Grant County Farm Bureau noted ODFW established its elk damage season in 2020. The program aims to control the number of elk that move onto the private property of cattle producers, eat grass, damage equipment and tear down fences, taking a big bite out of their profits.

Because the state governs elk populations, landowners must abide by hunting laws and wildlife management objectives.

Ryan Torland, a district biologist with ODFW, told the Eagle in a Sept. 2 email that elk distribution on private and public lands is a “priority concern” and one the department is working with federal and landowner partners to address.

According to ODFW’s website, the program allows landowners and hunters to work together to address damage occurring during the open season directly. With permission from the private landowner, hunters can purchase a cow elk tag to hunt on a specific property within the Murderers Creek and Northside units.

The agency notes the tag replaces 19 controlled hunts and will replace the need for landowner damage program tags in the areas and during the periods of the hunts. This is the hunter’s only elk-hunting opportunity, and they cannot hunt in a different hunting unit.

Torland said when the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the pilot program for a three-year window, it also developed monitoring and reporting criteria to assess the new “tool” and make changes that could include a larger swath of private lands within the county.

More than 130 hunters participated in the program, and more than 40 of them harvested a cow elk. He said landowners still were learning about the program and expect it to be more popular this season.

Grant County Farm Bureau President Shaun Robertson said the damage from elk populations feasting in pastures intended for livestock has been an ongoing problem on private lands since the federal government began reducing timber harvests in the 1990s.

“Unfortunately, the failure of the federal landowners to address the lack of high-quality forage on their own lands has directly resulted in large numbers of elk translocating to private lands seeking replacement feed,” said Robertson, a cattle producer and biologist.

Farm Bureau board member and local rancher Pat Holliday noted in the press release that this year’s drought — hottest and driest in over a century — has brought the problem on earlier and made it worse.

“Pastures that were already short of feed from poor growing conditions won’t have any fall feed for either cattle or wildlife,” Holliday said.

Rick Henslee, a Farm Bureau board member and rancher from Long Creek and Fox, said in a “good year” the elk will devour between 30-40% of the fall forage on his property.

“This year,” Henslee added, “we’ll be darn lucky if, between the grasshoppers and elk, we’ll have anything left.”

He said this year is turning out to be among the worst years he has seen.

The press release notes that landowners, due to extreme drought conditions, should have every tool available to prevent injury to their properties, including the general elk damage tag.

Torland said in addition to these tags, the department has other tools for assisting private landowners dealing with elk damage, including controlled antlerless elk hunts, damage tags, emergency hunts and hazing permits.

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