The wife of and an attorney for a Northeast Oregon rancher accused of killing as many as 25 elk this past winter are fighting back.
A week ago it was reported that Larry Harshfield, 69, had been arrested and lodged in jail April 8 on 12 counts of unlawful closed-season take and 12 counts of wastage for a dozen elk found slaughtered on his property north of Wallowa in February, with charges for 13 more rotting away on neighboring ground forwarded to county prosecutors.
The news led to outrage on social media, but also claims that the full story wasn’t being told.
The Wallowa County Chieftain stated that it was unable to get ranchers to talk to them, but an article out yesterday afternoon sheds some more light on the situation.
Pam Harshfield told The Oregonian that the elk herd in the area has grown tenfold in two decades, making it harder and harder for the family to keep the animals out of the haystacks they put up for cattle they raise.
This past winter, one of the harshest in more than 20 years, compounded things. If you recall from our story about conditions not too far north of here, elk cleaned out an entire shed full of 30-plus-year-old hay on Washington’s Grande Ronde, while in Idaho elk and pronghorn were driven towards homes where they browsed on a deadly landscaping shrub.
“We have to care for our animals all day long in subzero temps and then care for 200 of the State of Oregon’s elk herd all night long,” Pam Harshfield said in an email, reported the paper’s Andrew Theen.
He included a statement from her husband’s attorney, Lissa Casey of Eugene, who castigated the Oregon State Police for putting out a press release on the April 8 arrest of her client, first to local news outlets, then yesterday more broadly.
“Instead of letting this case proceed as other criminal cases do, law enforcement arrested a hard-working rancher to provide information for their press releases,” Casey emailed, Theen reported. “He and his family can’t be silent anymore in the face of the public information campaign the government is waging against him.”
After word broke April 13, it initially caught the attention of Glenn Palmer, sheriff of Grant County, Oregon. Writing on his personal Facebook page at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, he spoke to the cost and damage caused by elk coming to feed on rancher haystacks.
He said that while he “can see and understand frustration … I don’t agree with it but ODFW needs to be in a position to help and mitigate these issues.”
That led to a response a couple hours later from the wildlife agency that in fact it had been helping mitigate the issues on the Harshfield Ranch.
Late last week spokesman Michelle Dennehy confirmed to Northwest Sportsman the following statement came from ODFW:
Elk can cause significant damage (especially after a rough winter like this year’s). ODFW works with landowners to in a variety of ways to try to limit this damage. In this case, ODFW has been working with the involved individuals for several years to try to address elk damage on their property. In past, we have helped cost-share alfalfa seed, fertilizer and noxious weed spraying on the property.
This year we issued them a hazing permit and shotgun shells for hazing. We issued elk damage tags to anyone they authorized and who came to us for the tags. We offered to set up an emergency hunt, which the landowners declined because they wanted more control than that program allowed over who could hunt. (These landowners also do not generally allow public hunting which can help address damage). ODFW offered them a kill permit, which they also declined because it requires the permittee to skin, dress, and transport the carcasses to a meat processor for charity which they did not want to do.
ODFW gave the landowners plastic netting to wrap their hay sheds. We were also discussing a plan to supply woven wire fencing to protect their hay sheds. That didn’t happen this winter but we were in discussions to provide in spring.
The Oregonian‘s Theen reports the Harshfields are “hesitant” to allow hunters onto their 450 acres because they would “feel responsible” if bullets were winged at elk in the direction of neighbors’ homes.
Aerial imagery shows structures to the north, west and south of the ranch, with rising open rangeland to the east.
They also question field dressing game without help during such harsh conditions, and claim the venison wasn’t wasted, as it provided carrion to eagles and whatnot.
As it stands, during one of the roughest winters in recent memory, a herd of Oregon’s elk received the toughest of treatments imaginable.
Larry Harshfield will be arraigned next month on the 24 misdemeanor charges, which if convicted could bring fines of as much as $6,250 per count, plus loss of hunting privileges for three years and seizure of any weapon used to kill said elk, according to OSP.