Management of Roosevelt Elk
on William L. Finley Refuge

 

Planning

Issues

Purposes

Targets

Meetings

Your Concerns


photo: Elk. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Elk Roosevelt elk are indigenous to the Willamette Valley and western Oregon. Sightings of Roosevelt elk were uncommon at W.L. Finley NWR when the refuge was established in 1964. Sightings usually involved less than five animals and rarely were the elk seen on consecutive days. This pattern continued until 1989 when a small herd of approximately 20 elk were observed repeatedly throughout the fall and winter. Approximately 18 years later, the herd was estimated at approximately 120-140 animals (January 2006 estimate, J. Beall pers. comm.). An Oregon State University student, with the assistance of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), conducted informal population surveys in 2002-03. The minimum population was estimated at 122, with a 35 calves/100 cows ratio and a bull to cow ratio of 48/100. Public access to the refuge is limited from November through April and no elk hunting is allowed, so the sanctuary effect may be contributing to the increase.

The elk herd is a popular attraction to the visiting public. A study in Colorado found that the presence of elk greatly increased viewing pleasure (Manfredo and Larson 1993).

ODFW has designated the Willamette Valley Management Unit as an Elk De-emphasis Area (EDA). EDAs are characterized by high percentages of private land with on-going elk damage to private property and agricultural crops, or high potential for such damage. Hunter access to these areas is often limited. The management focus for EDAs is to minimize elk numbers and damage caused by elk.

In response to complaints of property (largely fences) and agricultural damage on private lands surrounding W.L.Finley NWR in the late 1990’s, ODFW issued special damage control permits. Private land-owners complaints continued as the local elk population increased. In 2002, ODFW established a special hunting unit in the vicinity of the Refuge, which included a lengthened season (August 1 through March 31) and either sex harvest. Harvest in the vicinity of the Refuge that first year was unofficially estimated at 24 (K. Warren pers.com), dominated by large bulls (including the new world’s record). In early 2003, ODFW and the Complex agreed to work together on elk damage issues and population assessments. ODFW would obtain harvest information and implement expanded off-refuge hunting opportunities. Organized attempts to capture and radio tag elk calves in 2003 were unsuccessful.

ODFW held a public meeting in February 2003 to discuss the elk population in the vicinity of W.L. Finley NWR with local residents. The general consensus from the meeting was the elk numbers should be reduced. As a result, 50 additional antlerless-only tags were issued for the Muddy Creek Unit beginning in 2005. Since that time, accurate population and harvest information is lacking. ODFW has not collected harvest data specific to the Muddy Creek unit in order to accurately measure impacts to the herd.

Despite the lack of hard population numbers and harvest statistics, depredation complaints in the vicinity of the Refuge have diminished considerably since the expanded season was implemented. Recent depredation complaints around the Refuge have mostly involved elk getting into corn fields that are grown by farmers or local duck clubs. Electric fences are successfully used to keep elk from damaging maturing corn crops.

Key questions to be addressed in the CCP:
What population level objective should be established to ensure a healthy viable herd that doesn’t cause problems with higher-level refuge goals and objectives (e.g., Canada goose management) and allows public viewing enjoyment? What is the current herd size? How effective is the off-refuge hunting season in reducing the local elk herd size and depredation complaints? Under what conditions should any additional strategies be employed for managing or reducing the elk population?

References:

Manfredo, M. H., and R. A. Larson. 1993. Managing for wildlife viewing recreation experiences: an application in Colorado. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 21:226-236.

 

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