- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) - Elk are usually more aggressive in the fall when searching for a mate. But what is surprising this year is that more elk are turning that aggression toward people, which has led to injuries and property damage.

Law enforcement and wildlife officials have responded to multiple reports of aggressive elk in the past few weeks and worry that people who are feeding or taking pictures of the animals are in danger.

“This year, it is odd they actually made contact with humans and caused some injuries,” Warrenton Police Chief Matt Workman said. “Every year, we get reports of aggressive elk because it’s that time of the year. This is the first time I remember them making contact with humans.”

The most notable incident occurred in Hammond last month when a man and teenage girl were chased by a bull elk. The man was checking his mail when the elk charged at him, knocked him to the ground with its antlers and chased him back into his house. The man had scratches on his side from the antlers.

Sgt. Joe Warwick, from the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division, responded to the incident. He kept an eye on the elk for four days and heard from other people who said the elk was acting aggressive. After consulting with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Warwick had to shoot and kill the aggressive elk.

“I had him in a safe place where I could identify him 100 percent. I had to use a firearm to dispatch him,” Warwick said. “The decision to remove him from the herd was not made lightly.”

About a week later, Warrenton Police responded to a report of a juvenile elk blocking a teenage girl and her younger brother from going to a school bus stop in Hammond.

Workman drove up in his vehicle, which eventually scared the elk away.

“He was definitely not going to move and giving them the stare down,” Workman said. “Even a young, juvenile elk is big and probably could hurt a human.”

Just days later, a man was driving his Toyota Tundra pickup near Nygaard Logging in Warrenton when he claims an elk charged his vehicle, causing damage to the side of his truck.

“He believes it intentionally charged his truck,” Workman said. “An officer examined the damage and said it looked consistent with the report.”

After word of the incidents spread around the community, Workman said, he started receiving numerous complaints from people saying their neighbors have been feeding the elk.

Warrenton does not have an ordinance against feeding elk, but Workman said his department strongly recommends against it.

People feeding the local herd is a main reason for the recent aggression, according to Warwick.

“I’m comfortable in saying a big contributor is the fact that the herd in Warrenton - people regularly feed them,” he said.

Although it may be tempting to feed an elk and treat the animal like a pet, officials agree that feeding them is unsafe for both the elk and humans.

People need to give elk distance and treat them like the wild animals they are, officials say.

Herman Biederbeck, wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s North Coast District, said large mammals such as elk and bears can get tamed by being fed.

“They expect feed from people. If they don’t get it, then they start looking at other people for food,” Biederbeck said. “It creates a whole host of problems and unintended aggression.”

Another factor possibly leading to elk aggression is the close proximity to residents of the North Coast.

“The aggression is not common, but the potential for it to occur is higher in northwest Clatsop County with the proximity of elk and people,” Biederbeck said.

The Clatsop Plains - west of U.S. Highway 101 from Seaside to Astoria - has more than 300 elk in about four or five herds, according to Biederbeck.

The elk find refuge in land around Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center and Fort Stevens State Park. Other areas have been developed and are forcing the elk to encounter more people.

The Gearhart elk herd has become famous for how comfortable the animals are around the neighborhoods.

The state Fish and Wildlife Department is torn between being encouraged by the healthy number of elk, and having to respond to the property damage caused by the elk.

“Within the Clatsop Plains area, there are people that very much enjoy the elk and then there are also people who really dislike the elk,” Biederbeck said. “They are the ones that will suffer the economic impacts of the elk. We have this divided public opinion, whether people want them or not.”

As of now, the only tool to manage the elk population is hunting that occurs on some private farm land in the county.

Overall, Biederbeck said living among the elk herds will remain a reality for Clatsop County residents. It is up to the residents to keep a safe distance, especially in rut season.

“It’s a situation that is not going to get a lot better any time soon,” he said. “There is a steady increase in development in this area. That sets the stage for more elk conflicts with humans.”

___

Information from: The Daily Astorian, https://www.dailyastorian.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide