As Western wildlife managers struggle to rebuild the populations of various species of wildlife, here’s one they don’t have to worry about: elk.
Mushrooming populations of elk can be found in many parts of the West. Ranchers in Idaho, Oregon and Washington state have complained about them. Forests in northwestern Oregon are full of them. Some coastal Oregon cities have more than their fill of them.
While at first glance they appear majestic, they can also be pests, and costly ones at that.
Ranchers are especially vexed by the critters. Elk eat the good grass on grazing land that is being managed for cattle. They tear down fences. And they multiply like antlered rabbits.
Wildlife managers in some states have helped with hazing and other efforts, but it falls far short of mitigating the cost ranchers incur replacing lost grass with hay and repairing fence. For some ranchers, the costs run in the tens of thousands of dollars.
What to do.
Our first suggestion is for wildlife managers to develop an aggressive hunting program. Many a hunter would appreciate the prospect of getting an elk to fill the family freezer. If carried out properly, a hunting program could significantly reduce the elk population at little cost to the state.
A second suggestion is to harvest the excess elk and have them processed as meat for food banks. The price of beef has been rising steadily over the past year, increasing the pressure in food bank budgets. Free, or low-cost, elk meat would be welcomed by the hungry, who now get little meat as part of their diet.
Our third suggestion doesn’t hold much promise. We suggest that ranchers and others bearing brunt of the elk overpopulation go the state capitol and plead their case with legislators.
Unfortunately, we don’t see urban lawmakers, who dominate state legislatures, doing much to get rid of elk. They see them as an attractive nuisance, not as taking money out of the pockets of ranchers and others.
That leaves it up to the states’ wildlife managers. We’re confident they can work with ranchers and others to resolve the elk problem. If they put their minds to it, they can benefit hunters and the hungry in the process.