Cascade Elk: Access Issues and Low Odds Persist

Elk distribution is a concern right now, with more herds occupying private lands. Photo by Jason Haley

by Jason Haley

Expect more of the same this year in the southern Cascades, according to ODFW’s Mark Vargas in Medford. Winter was “harsh” but it didn’t affect elk. The October snow storms didn’t increase the harvest, either, despite deer hunters taking advantage. The Butcher Shop in Eagle Point was inundated with over 200 deer, but few elk. Elk harvest was steady, but normal. The Rogue Unit yielded 70 elk (bow/rifle), but success remains around 4 or 5 percent.

There’s “no major changes” from the past 10 years,” Vargas said. The major shift  since logging stopped has been the reduction of elk on the upper public forests to private land at lower elevations. ODFW has observed a “big shift in elk on ag lands.”

Existing elk are harder to find on National Forests, right now, also. “Meadows are shrinking, no openings, roads are grown-in,” Vargas said. “The dynamic has changed completely over the last 20 years. I don’t know where it settles out.”

It’s the same up north. “It’s pretty dismal,” said biologist Christopher Yee in Springfield. Elk on the industrial timberlands are doing “ok” but there are fewer and fewer on National Forest land. “Recruitment is down. We didn’t see a single calf during surveys this year.”

The largest landowner is Weyerhaeuser. It’s all fee-access. Yee’s district enjoyed the Wendling TMA for years, but that land will soon be withdrawn. They are anticipating “a mess” with the resultant disappointment and crowding onto other properties. OHA’s Mid-Willamette Chapter recently quit operating the Weyerhaeuser gate at Snow Peak, as the area is now permit-access.

Without logging on public land, devastating fires burn too hot. Yee said the saving grace has actually been these fires and some of the small restoration projects ODFW has done. ‘’There’s still elk out there and some fantastic bulls, but hunters have to do their homework and scout.” There’s little or no competition. “The big elk camps of 6-10 years ago on USFS land are gone.”

Success doesn’t sniff 10-percent across the Cascades (bow/rifle) but a fair number of elk are being taken in some units, like the Rogue, Santiam, and Upper Deschutes due to the sheer number of hunters. Many are on private land.

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