CANYON CITY – Cropland owners last week aired their frustrations over property damage caused by elk, as the Grant County Wildlife Advisory Board met to seek solutions.
“What can we do to help?” asked County Commissioner Boyd Britton, who attended the Dec. 3 meeting along with 14 others.
The County Court is seeking recommendations from the advisory board to determine the best way to seek Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife aid in finding strategies to keep elk herds off of croplands.
“Most people at ODFW want to solve the problem,” Britton said.
Long Creek rancher Rick Henslee, the co-chair of the advisory board, said the main goal is giving landowners a way to deal with the problem.
“It’s getting worse instead of better,” he said. “The game commission is managing tags, but not elk. We need to start requesting the tools so we can manage it.”
Co-chair Ken Holliday, who ranches east of John Day, said 14 elks herds, each numbering 80-150 animals, roam his hayfields 10 months out of the year, eating all the clover and knocking down trees on his property.
He said he moves the cattle around, trying to get ahead of the elk.
“We like to have them, but when elk are coming in at these numbers, they’ll get every bit of clover and alfalfa,” he said.
He and others say they’ve observed a huge shift in the seasonal migration of elk, with the animals coming to the ranch land earlier and staying longer.
The meeting drew ranchers, cropland owners, bow hunters, rifle hunters and board members.
“We’re talking about an animal that is one of the smartest in the world,” said board member Pete Baucum. “They know what you’re going to do.”
He said they need to “consider the brain between the ears.”
Rancher Pete Hettinga of Dayville agreed.
He noted when he fired warning shots, the elk “were gone for three days, next time they were gone for two days, the next time they went up on the hill, watched until the lights were out, then came back down – they get so they don’t pay any attention to you.”
John Griff said 600-700 elk come out at night in fields near what’s called the old pumpkin patch east of Dayville, by his residence.
Jay Carniglia of Canyon City, an avid bow hunter, said he has seen elk run from private property to private property, causing damage along the way.
“We’ve got to get everybody involved in this,” he said.
“The loss to private landowners cannot be overstated,” Hettinga said. “I can’t see that we can afford to let this go on any longer.”
With input from those attending the board meeting, Hensley listed five proposals for consideration. Once the board gives final approval, County Court members will approach ODFW for possible solutions. The ideas listed last week included:
• Install some cages in hay fields to measure damages to cropland and estimate economic losses.
• Offer a night control option, to cull elk damaging property at night.
• Create a one-mile buffer around private lands where some elk tags would also be valid.
• Allow unfilled draw tags to be sold by landowners. Youth and the elderly would have priority access to surplus tags.
• Engage public lands managers to provide more suitable elk habitat on public lands.
Shaun Robertson of Mt. Vernon, a natural resource consultant, has been asked by the board to draft a resolution for an advisory board meeting next Monday, Dec. 17. The board is expected to vote on the resolution then.
Robertson said the five proposals are concepts, not demands, at this point; however, if a solution cannot be reached with ODFW, he said cropland owners will demand monetary compensation and high fencing around high-value cropland.
“Elk are a public resource,” he said, adding the animals are causing damage to private lands with no compensation given to the landowners.
“Landowners contribute to our recreation – we need to do a better job,” he said.
He added that the proposals aren’t about the number of tags for private landowners, but the flexibility of how tags are used.
“The wildlife committee is suggesting a group of actions that are extremely reasonable and require only minor modifications to existing hunt structure which still preserve maximum opportunity for sportsmen on public lands,” he said. “I hope ODFW can do something right now that alleviates the burden on the landowners.”Read more on bluemountaineagle.com.