Gearhart moved a step closer on a plan to reduce the local elk population. The plan relies on hunting outside city limits to stem the birth rate of elk calves.
“No doors should be considered closed, especially when you’re looking at creative solutions for managing an urban elk herd,” Manuel Padilla, project manager for Oregon Solutions, said at a Gearhart City Council workshop last week.
“You’re going to start seeing very quickly a situation in which you are going to have very few, if any, options left to be able to start to bring down the herd to a manageable level,” Padilla said. “That’s precisely why culling, although a tough decision, has been put forward and is strongly, strongly recommended.”
The elk population in Clatsop County is exponentially higher than a decade ago, said Paul Atwood, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Growth is expected to be substantial in the years ahead.
In 2019, Gov. Kate Brown designated the Clatsop Plains Elk Collaborative an Oregon Solutions Project, to develop sustainable solutions to community-based problems through the collaborative efforts of businesses, government and nonprofit organizations. Warrenton Mayor Henry Balensifer and Seaside Mayor Jay Barber are co-conveners, with a project team of 26 members.
No one tool will serve as a magic bullet to solve the problem, Padilla said.
To be effective, a culling strategy needs to be used in conjunction with no feeding laws, hazing, fencing, increased hunting opportunities, better road signs and rumble strips in strategic areas, he wrote in an executive summary delivered to City Councilors.
Educational programs, wildlife corridors, elk behavior modification plans and land use tools would also be utilized to increase and preserve land for elk.
There is no precise number that can be predetermined that will mark “success” or “mission accomplished,” Atwood said. “To eliminate an entire group is not feasible.”
A culling plan would provide details on best methods and locations for culling outside of the city limits.
“It’s a very tight space, very urban,” Padilla said. “There are probably not many, if any, areas for culling within the city limits of Gearhart.”
An initial number to be culled can only be reached after Gearhart passes a resolution authorizing culling to take place and a permit sought from the department of fish and wildlife.
All meat would be donated to local food banks.
Project team members aim for approval of a declaration of cooperation among partners for the end of February, Padilla said.
After the declaration has been signed, the project team will plan a more detailed timeline and implement the work outlined in the declaration.
“You will likely see broad community engagement about the new plan is one of the first things that happens after the DoC has been signed,” Padilla said.
Gearhart Mayor Paulina Cockrum said she anticipates scheduling a town hall concerning the elk.
“All of the factors pointed out during the work session are important for the public to hear,” she said. “Particularly the rich food source the urban setting provides for the Gearhart elk herd and safety factors when living near in their midst, how to keep humans and elk at safe distances from one another, and the coordinated approach we will need to take to manage the shared environment going forward.”