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Wildlife Hot Topics - Gearhart elk

Rumors have been circulating locally in Gearhart and online about elk in the Gearhart area. The purpose of this FAQ page is to provide clarity and correct misinformation about rumored ODFW elk culling. ODFW has not conducted any elk culling operations in the Clatsop Plains.  

What is the status of elk in Gearhart? 

Elk populations in the Clatsop Plains are healthy and ODFW counted 149 elk in Gearhart in 2020. Since 2021, ODFW has observed that elk herds in Clatsop Plains have broken up into smaller groups, including herds in areas like Warrenton, Ft. Stevens, etc. that aren't heavily hunted. This is likely contributing to the belief that elk herds have been culled as locals are less likely to see large groups of elk. 2023 observations indicate that the Gearhart elk are east of Hwy 101. It is common for elk herds to expand, shrink and split. Numbers of elk in individual herds (and the number of herds) can naturally change over time. 

Local elk are a longtime feature in Clatsop communities like Gearhart and Warrenton and those populations are robust and stable. ODFW staff conduct aerial elk surveys annually and often supplement those surveys with ground-based observations.  

What is the Clatsop Plains Elk Collaborative?

The Clatsop Plains Elk Collaborative was designated as an Oregon Solutions Project by then Governor Brown in 2019 to identify possible solutions to conflict between humans and elk and reduce the hazards to people, pets, and property. The Collaborative came about after years of complaints from local residents expressing concerns about the abundance of elk in the area and the potential for safety issues.  

The governor designated the Mayor of Warrenton and the Mayor of Seaside as co-conveners of the project and Oregon Solutions formed a project team of 26 members, consisting of key stakeholders, state and federal agency staff, local community and government leaders, academics, Governor's Regional Solutions staff, and area nonprofit representatives to focus on the goals of: reducing conflict between elk-human interactions, increasing safety, and promoting cohabitation between elk and people in the Clatsop Plains area. In 2021, the Collaborative signed the Declaration of Cooperation, an agreement that outlines the commitments and actions of the Clatsop Plains Collaborative.  

One of ODFW's commitments to the Collaborative is to "adapt hunting options to new information on seasonally problematic elk that come into areas where they could be hunted through increasing tag numbers or creating special hunting seasons" (see Declaration of Cooperation). The Collaborative encouraged ODFW to use traditional wildlife management tools where possible. One of those tools is the Oregon Landowner Damage Program (OLDP).

Has ODFW conducted culling operations in Gearhart?

No. ODFW has not conducted culling operations (i.e. when agency staff or other approved agents kill elk for the purpose of reducing the population) to date. The process for undertaking culling operations is clearly defined in the Collaborative's Declaration of Cooperation. According to OAR 635-043-0250 a clear and legal process is required for culling of deer or elk to occur, including action from local governments. 

ODFW issued damage tags to a private landowner experiencing fence and pasture damage over the course of three years (2020-2022) through the Oregon Landowner Damage Program. This program is not new and is regularly used in areas throughout the state where elk are damaging agriculture. 77 elk were harvested through the OLDP over three years on the unincorporated property between Gearhart and Warrenton. The elk were harvested legally by licensed hunters who retained the elk meat.     

The 77 harvested elk originated from at least 3 different herds, totaling over 250 elk between the three herds and covering approximately 9 square miles in Clatsop Plains. Reproduction has been regularly occurring during that timeframe, meaning the life cycle of the herds continues as normal with calves being recruited into the population. 

If the damage qualifies, the law specifically places no annual limit on the number of tags issued while the damage continues.  In this case, elk continued to return to the property and cause damage. ODFW is statutorily obligated to assist landowners in alleviating wildlife damage. 

How does ODFW address wildlife damage complaints and conflict? 

ODFW regularly responds to landowner complaints regarding wildlife damage and conflict. The department is statutorily required to assist landowners with alleviating damage on their property.

ODFW receives and provides advice and guidance on thousands of unique damage and conflict situations annually, covering a variety of different wildlife species from small mammals, furbearers and ungulates to large carnivores.  Of the numerous tools ODFW uses to resolve conflict, some are legislatively created programs that the department is tasked with administering, such as the Oregon Landowner Damage Program which deals specifically with elk.   

The Oregon Landowner Damage Program predates the Clatsop Plains Elk Collaborative and continues to be a tool for addressing elk damage throughout the state. 

What is the Oregon Landowner Damage Program?  

The Oregon Landowner Damage Program (OLDP) was created by the legislature to help landowners address crop or property damage by elk. The OLDP operates under Oregon Administrative Rule 635-075-0011. Elk can cause thousands of dollars of damage to crops and pastureland. The state of Oregon does not compensate landowners for damage to crops or property by elk. 

How does the Oregon Landowner Damage Program work? 

Damage tags can be issued by ODFW for landowners who are experiencing crop or property damage through the OLDP. The damage must be verified by ODFW district staff in order for a damage tag to be issued. No more than five damage program tags may be valid at any one time on a particular property. The tags can be filled by the landowner or other hunters who have a valid hunting license and have not been successful in harvesting an elk during current general or controlled seasons. Damage tags are limited to antlerless elk and a hunter may only receive one damage tag per year.   

The ultimate goal of the OLDP is to reduce damage by elk. This is accomplished through the removal of individual animals but also through potential changes in animal behavior (i.e. the elk will avoid that area).  

Who are the tags issued to?  

Tags are issued directly to individual hunters with a valid hunting license. 

What are the safety concerns when elk and people share the same spaces? 

Elk are large wild animals and can be aggressive without warning. Roosevelt elk are the largest elk subspecies in terms of body size, with bulls generally weighing 700-1,100 pounds. Cow elk will aggressively protect their young in the spring and summer. Bull elk become especially aggressive during the fall rut when they challenge other males and will charge anything that comes too close.  

Human-provided food can contribute to problems with elk:

  • Providing food can cause elk to become habituated to humans and aggressive towards them. Female elk with young calves have injured and killed pets in Oregon and Washington. It is their instinct to protect their young.  
  • Feeding wildlife concentrates animals, which leads to the easier spread of disease and parasites and greater susceptibility to predators.  
  • Feeding elk attracts their natural predators like cougars and coyotes to areas of human activity.   
  • Once wildlife associate people with food, they come to expect it. Feeding will invite more elk to a property and encourage them to stay.  
  • Concentrating elk in human-settled areas can lead to an increase in vehicle collisions and conflicts between wildlife and pets.   
  • Concentrating deer and elk can hurt habitat and landscaping by encouraging excessive grazing. 
  • Elk, and all wild animals, have a specialized diet that coincides with seasonal changes. Human-provided food can negatively impact their health, cause abnormal hoof growth and disruptions to hormones and in many cases have fatal consequences.

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