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The Delights and the Dangers of N. Oregon Coast Elk

Published 05/02/2018 at 5:55 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

The Delights and the Dangers of N. Oregon Coast Elk

(Seaside, Oregon) – One of the big surprise delights of wandering the north Oregon coast is catching sight of the grand and stately Roosevelt elk, which have fairly heavy populations on the Clatsop Plains and parts of the coast range. They’re especially astonishing when they show up in full view around Highway 101 between Cannon Beach and Seaside, lounging on the slopes near the highway. (Above: elk at Ecola State Park).

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Around the north interchanges of Cannon Beach, they’re really a stunner and a traffic-stopper. Few things cause more people to pull over than the herd laying around the grassy spots in full view of the highway.

Even more spectacularly, they can sometimes be seen loafing about Ecola State Park’s viewpoints, incredibly close to humans.

What are your best chances of seeing these great and beautiful beasts? And what are the dangers?

Herman Biederbeck is a wildlife biologist specializing in deer and elk at the Tillamook office of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). He said there’s a lot going on with these elk, and how and when you can spot them is not really predictable. There are also some basic rules to observe to keep yourself safe around them, as there have been more news stories about them charging people and pets in recent years.

“Most of the elk that can be readily viewed on the north Oregon coast are around Gearhart, although some viewable populations exist in and around Cannon Beach and Warrenton, as well,” Biederbeck said. “However, the best and most reliable elk viewing is at our Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area, located in central Clatsop County, north of Elsie.”

Biederbeck said elk are like most wildlife: driven by foraging needs. They graze on grass. Ironically, some of their favorite food sources tend to be areas around people because of lawns, golf courses and pastures. The fertilized grasses, or those managed for livestock there, are richer in nutrients and simply yummier to the elk.

It turns out winter may increase your chances of seeing them.

“Some herds only hang out in the valleys and lowlands in the winter months, and spend the summers primarily in the forest, though,” Biederbeck said.

However, they don’t forage in one area too long. Biederbeck said these local elk tend to be in herds that are only as large as the local food sources can sustain.

“In order to make this herd concept work, they move around a lot to take advantage of replenished (since they were there the last time) forage resources,” Biederbeck said. “If they stayed in one area for a long time, they would soon deplete, and likely decimate, those forage resources.”

More and more these creatures on the north Oregon coast are winding up in the news for charging humans or getting aggressive. Whether this is simply a factor of the information age – and more incidents are reported – or a consequence of increased proximity to humans is unclear, however.

It does create a cause for caution. Trying to get a selfie with such an animal is a really bad idea, but other things are more likely to set them off, and some times of the year are more problematic than others.

“Yes, people should enjoy elk from a distance, and if they have a dog with them, at an even farther distance from them,” Biederbeck said. “Elk should not be fed by people – it creates lots of problems and it usually ends badly for the elk. There are times when elk are more sensitive (negatively) to people. In June-July the cow elk often have young calves at heel, and they’re very protective. In September-October the bull elk are in the breeding season or ‘rut’ and they can become very intolerant of people as well.”

This link from ODFW has some good, common sense tips for when you’re around elk: www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/deer_elk.asp. - Where to stay in these areas - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours

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Photo below courtesy Seaside Aquarium.



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