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RMEF Details $355,000 In Oregon Elk Habitat, Research Grants


The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provided $355,128 in grants to fund nearly two dozen habitat enhancement and elk research projects in Oregon.


The projects benefit 10,317 acres of wildlife habitat across Coos, Crook, Curry, Douglas, Grant, Harney, Klamath, Lake, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Morrow, Tillamook, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa and Yamhill Counties. One of the projects benefits much of eastern Oregon.

“There is a great need to gain a better understanding of the productivity of elk populations as well as movement, behavior, private versus public habitat usage and other issues that affect elk in Oregon. That, in part, is why we provided grant funding for five detailed research projects,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “The funding also goes toward prescribed burning, forest thinning, meadow restoration, noxious weed treatment and other work that enhances habitat for elk and other wildlife.”

RMEF has 27 chapters and more than 17,000 members in Oregon.

“Elk and elk country in Oregon have our volunteers to thank for generating this funding by hosting banquets, membership drives and other events. We so appreciate their time and talents as well as their dedication to our conservation mission,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO.

Below is a sampling of Oregon’s 2019 projects, listed by county:

Coos County

  • Plant native grasses and forbs within coastal forest openings across 93 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land to improve forage for wildlife (also benefits Douglas and Curry Counties).

Crook County

  • Seed 455 acres of meadow, sagebrush and aspen habitat on the Ochoco National Forest. Crews will also burn slash piles created during 2018 thinning operations. The project area is utilized year-round by elk and also benefits mule deer, antelope, wild turkey, California and mountain quail, Hungarian partridge and other species.
  • Enhance about 1,345 acres of wildlife habitat on the northern edge of the Ochoco National Forest. Treatments include meadow restoration, aspen enhancement and protection, improving big game security through installing effective barriers on closed roads and reconnection of the floodplain through stream restoration and riparian improvements.

Douglas County

  • Provide funding for lab analysis of forage clippings taken in spring and fall as part of a study examining multiple native seed mixes to determine the best mix for elk forage based on consumption and nutritional content. Provide funding for six GPS collars to be placed on bull elk as part of a study to define elk ranges in western Oregon including habitat use and movements, survival rates and mortality causes. The findings will assist with improved overall elk management (also benefits Coos, Linn and Lane Counties).
  • Provide funding for a study to determine whether sampling and extracting DNA from fecal pellets is a reliable way to estimate elk populations. Currently, biologists conduct counts via helicopter surveys but they lack effectiveness due to heavy, dense forests (also benefits Coos, Linn and Lane Counties).

Grant County

  • Complete seeding of 100 acres that were heavily encroached by junipers and previously treated via cutting, piling and pile burning as part of a continuing effort to improve elk and deer range in the Sage Brush Basin. Treat 400 acres of winter range for elk. mule deer and antelope on the Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Management Area through chemical control of invasive annual grasses followed by drill seeding with a desirable perennial grass mix.
  • Restore aspen stands by removing encroaching conifers covering 155 acres along streams and meadows on the Malheur National Forest. This marks the first phase of a project encompassing 17,500 acres 14 miles south of John Day.

Harney County

  • Provide funding for a holistic approach to increase the quality of elk habitat across 3,280 acres on the Malheur National Forest and BLM land. Crews will refurbish five water guzzlers, improve elk security, distribute native grass and mountain shrub seed and apply noxious weed treatment.
  • Remove juniper from 288 acres of BLM land to improve the health and vigor of aspen stands and riparian areas used by elk, mule deer and greater sage grouse in the Little Bridge Creek drainage.

Klamath County

  • Provide funding to assist with the construction of a wildlife crossing under a new bridge along U.S. 97 at milepost 180. Specifically, RMEF funds will go toward the installation of 10 miles of fencing to help funnel elk and deer to the undercrossing.

Lake County

  • Treat 891 acres of elk summer range in the North Warner Mountains on the Fremont-Winema National Forest. This is the fourth year of a seven-year effort to restore aspen on a landscape-scale while also improving wildlife habitat and creating both natural firebreaks and local jobs.

Lane County

  • Use mechanical mowing, chain saws and other means to improve 180 acres of meadow habitat on the Siuslaw National Forest. Annual maintenance prevents the incursion of invasive vegetation and benefits elk, black-tailed deer and other bird and animal life (also benefits Lincoln and Douglas Counties).
  • Prescribed burn 100 acres to trigger the growth of native vegetation and improve overall forest health on the Willamette National Forest. The treatment is part of the multi-year Jim’s Creek Restoration Project to return the area to its historic state of scattered Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and Oregon white oak stands with a dense bunchgrass understory.
  • Apply a variety of treatments to benefit wildlife habitat across 161 acres in the McKenzie River Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest. Specific approaches include noxious weed treatment, prescribed burning, mulching, planting seed and wetland enhancement.

Linn County

  • Apply a combination of forest thinning, prescribed fire, seeding and other treatments to restore meadow and wetland habitat at three sites in the Western Cascade Mountains on the Willamette National Forest (also benefits Lane County).
  • Apply a combination of treatments to enhance and restore six mountain meadows over 157 acres where non-native species and encroaching conifers are affecting habitat in the Sweet Home Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest.

Marion County

  • Restore and maintain a 38-acre large mountain meadow on BLM land northeast of Gates that is a migration corridor and provides summer forage.

Tillamook County

  • Maintain and restore 135 acres of meadows in the Hebo Ranger District on the Siuslaw National Forest. Crews will institute a combination of noxious weed, forest thinning and planting treatments to expand existing meadows by removing competing vegetation (also benefits Lincoln and Yamhill Counties).

Umatilla County

  • Provide funding for research to provide biologists a better understanding why elk are shifting their range from public to private lands in the Blue Mountains. Crews will capture and place GPS collars on 50 cow elk so biologists can monitor their migration and use of summer and winter range while also aiming to reduce private land damage and increase hunting opportunity (also benefits Morrow County).
  • Treat 555 acres on the Bridge Creek Wildlife Management Area to control invasive weeds and stimulate the growth of desirable grasses and forbs.

Union County

  • Thin 600 acres of young, overstocked conifer stands on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest followed by slash treatment and pile and burning. Improving habitat will increase the quality of forage on yearlong elk habitat and reduce elk damage on nearby private land.
  • Treat 2,000 acres across the Grande Ronde and Catherine Creek watersheds on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in the Blue Mountains to remove noxious weeds that degrade the quality and quantity of elk forage.

Wallowa County

  • Prescribe burn 500 acres on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest to remove decadent grasses and shrubs as well as stimulate regrowth in open grasslands and the understory of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir stands. The project is part of a10-year effort to burn more than 5,000 acres within the Chesnimnus Wildlife Management Unit to improve elk distribution and draw them away from private property where damage complaints are common.

Eastern Oregon

  • Provide funding for research to gain a better understanding why elk populations are declining across wide areas of the northwestern United States. Researchers will apply a time series approach across three different landscapes to analyze population responses to several disturbance agents such as forestry, fire and grazing.

Hunters Express Concerns Over Oregon Pilot ‘Excessive Elk Damage’ Bill

Oregon lawmakers this morning heard arguments for and against a bill that would begin a pilot program to alleviate “excessive elk damage,” with hunting organizations expressing concern and ranchers demanding action.

House Bill 3227 drew a full house during public comment in Salem before the lower chamber’s Natural Resources Committee, which also heard from the Department of Fish and Wildlife about what tools are in its toolbox for when too many of the prized ungulates gather on valley floor pastures.


This winter and the harsh one of 2016-17 have seen large numbers pushed into the lowlands and farmers and ranchers fields and haystacks, where some apparently have taken up year-round residence too.

But even as they acknowledge that that’s a problem, hunters are worried about nebulous language in the bill, including what exactly “excessive” means and how it opens up the current landowner damage program to allow any “persons” to get a tag to kill antlerless on the property or leases of producers and others who complains they’re suffering too high of an impact from elk.

“The Oregon Hunters Association opposes House Bill 3227, as it does not consider elk biological factors, environmental conditions, most hunters interests, or the effectiveness of collaborative efforts,” wrote Ken McCall, OHA resource director. “It places elk management in the hands of landowners rather than with trained professionals within ODFW. Elk distribution issues are complex, and a one-sided approach is not the answer.”

Blake Henning, conservation chair of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, called it a “heavy-handed approach” in written testimony and said the problem was a result of other issues.

“This bill treats the symptoms of elk herd distribution rather than its true causes—lack of suitable habitat on adjacent public lands and pressure from predators. The Oregon House of Representatives would do well to address these problems before considering this statutory landowner damage pilot program,” his remarks stated.

The numerous territories of wolves in the mountains above La Grande and Elgin were featured in Union County Commissioner Paul Anderes’s slideshow.

But it also showed apparent elk damage, including teetering haystacks that had been eaten on at the bottom, and elk tracks and trails through muddy or planted fields.

Besides passing the bill, Anderes said other solutions were removing wapiti from the floor of the valley and “night-time shooting.”

Under the bill, the pilot program would include Clatsop, Lincoln, Morrow, Tillamook, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa Counties, and livestock producers and farmers from some of those voiced support for it during the hearing, saying that lowland elk herds have been growing in size in recent years.

Some said they had no intention of making any money off of selling tags through the proposed program.

Committee Chair Brad Witt was pretty emphatic that something needed to be done.

“We’re not going to let Oregonians be eaten out of house and home,” the Clatskanie Democrat said. “We’re going to protect hunters’ interests as well.”

He had asked representatives of the hunting groups in attendance — OHA, RMEF along with Oregon Bowhunters — what it would take to get closer to an agreement about how to move forward.

“I’m looking at how we get to a yes,” Witt said, indicating his desire to move the bill.

ODFW’s Shannon Hurn said that the most effective solution so far has been working collaboratively with legislators, landowners and hunters, which was echoed by OHA’s Al Elkins.

He said it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all issue, and that his conclusion after working for 20 years on it is that regional discussions about specific problems areas works best.

Near the end of the meeting, OHA’s Ken McCall rose and echoed sentiments from Henning’s RMEF statement.

“We’re leaving the federal lands out of this conversation and we shouldn’t,” he said.

McCall said his organization has been working for the Forest Service to improve habitat on low-elevation lands adjacent to agricultural operations.

Chair Witt asked the hunter groups to provide a contact name to him and the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Greg Baretto, a Cove Republican, to be available to work on the issue.

Two more hearings on Oregon elk bills are scheduled for this afternoon.