Tod's Blog

Adventures with family & friends and other things I'm passionate about…

Trading Elk For Turkeys???

Posted by todblog on February 18, 2013

February 18, 2013

Another year of elk helicopter flights put-in the books. We spent about one week flying around in a helicopter counting elk in the Coast and Cascade Ranges in Douglas County. It was probably some of the worst elk numbers I’ve ever had. In places we traditionally see elk herds on open slopes, we found nothing. Sometimes we found tracks but no elk. That is frustrating because you only have so many hours to fly and a lot of area to cover. So, if the elk aren’t out in the open where they can be seen does it mean elk numbers are down? or were the elk just not out when we flew the area? or maybe some of both?

One thing that becomes more apparent with each passing year is the decline in open areas on federal land. The forest continues to grow larger, deeper and darker in many places. Does it mean elk don’t use those forests? Certainly not, they need shelter in the form of large stands of timber for escapement and thermal cover. However, there’s not a lot of forage in a deep dark forest compared to open areas where the sunlight grows good groceries like grasses, forbs, and shrubs for wildlife of all kinds including elk and deer. We could certainly use more openings in our forests to provide more nutritional forage for deer and elk. Better nutrition means cow elk entering breeding season in better shape, having more fat reserves to survive winter and being in better condition to raise calves more successfully.

Elk numbers have declined in the Cascades and a couple of years ago when checking hunters we were confronted with a rumor that spread like wildfire.  “Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife trapped 400 elk and sent them to Kentucky in exchange for whitetail deer or turkeys!” It was said enough times by enough people that it became the truth in anyone’s mind who said it. Each camp we pulled into had the same question to ask, “Is it true, you guys trapped 400 elk and moved them to Kentucky? without a public meeting? with our tax dollars?”

I was told by one person that his friend had first-hand knowledge since he was involved in the trapping operation but, did not want to come forward for fear of losing his job. I scratched my head, gripped my chin, and had a good laugh. Wow, does anyone for a second know what kind of effort that would take to trap 400 elk and move them out of the area without anyone knowing about it? and the resources it would take to conduct such an endeavor? I guess those rumors should be taken as a compliment, sort of…


Fueling helicopter before an evening flight


Pre-flight safety briefing


About to descend on some elk below or are they rocks and stumps?


Fog is a constant issue with elk flights in the winter months.


Large open south facing slopes are good places to find deer and elk.


Some south facing slopes are found along steep cliff faces. It’s also where the winter “groceries” are found.


Elk magnet- it’s what you get when you maintain open meadows with nutritious forage.


That same field being limed, disced and seeded a few months earlier in the fall.


Putting the finishing touches on an “elk magnet”


Restoring a meadow that is being encroached upon by pine trees.


After falling trees, they are cut up, stacked and burned in the fall. More sunlight means more grasses, forbs, and shrubs that will benefit a variety of wildlife species.


When you’re surrounded by deep dark forest, where do you go to eat nutritious forage, hmmm…… private lands?


Wildfire creates large openings for sunlight to hit the ground. Deer and elk appreciate the forage it creates. This fire created a nice mosaic of openings.


Elk caught in the open, feeding in an area opened by wildfire.


The Umpqua National Forest- Diamond Lake Ranger District has been creating small openings for elk forage.


A research project was set up to measure which forage seed mix was most favored by elk. This could be where rumors started…looks like an elk trap don’t it?


A winter time view of the forage openings


We need to find ways to get more sunlight hitting the ground. Not everything lives in a deep dark forest.


This elk is done eating on private land and is about to enter the deep dark forest.


One Response to “Trading Elk For Turkeys???”

  1. Mikal Moore said

    Great post, Tod. I think there are some good opportunities for NGOs like NWTF and RMEF to partner with BLM and USFS to create wildlife openings like you’re talking about through stewardship authority and potentially OWEB funds. I’m feeling inspired and would love to to get our SW OR partners pointed in the same direction. Let’s talk!


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