State elk response leaves city unsatisfied

This elk dines on some Gearhart shrubbery.

The response from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to Gearhart’s ongoing search for a solution to the elk problem left some officials unsatisfied and wanting more.

“We have no power over wildlife population in our area,” Mayor Matty Brown said at the Feb. 7 Gearhart City Council meeting. “Zero. It’s all the ODFW. Really the only thing the city can do is to document these cases and sending that information to the ODFW. It’s really up to them if they want to control population of animals. Period.”

After providing a chronicled listing of elk and human interactions, including some in which humans and pets were threatened on city streets, the city reached out to the department.

A letter addressed to Fish and Wildlife went out in the mail Jan. 10. “The city of Gearhart would like to request more information on how to best protect the citizens’ safety and what can be done so no one is injured or killed by these animals,” Brown wrote.

The mayor said he hoped to build awareness of conflicts and public safety issues.

In a response, department wildlife biologist Herman Biederbeck thanked the mayor for his letter and for a description of the issues surrounding the elk that frequent the Seaside/Gearhart area.

He said public opinion of the elk in the area is divided, with strong feelings on both sides of the issue. He suggested a meeting with the community to better understand their perspective.

“This would also be an opportunity for ODFW to present a range of potential management options, including elk removal, and receive public feedback,” Biederbeck wrote. “If the city of Gearhart is willing to host a public meeting, we will gladly work with you on and drafting an agenda and selecting a date that allows for ample public notice.”

In April 2014, the city did just that when Biederbeck spoke as part of a six-person panel that discussed the ubiquitous herd of Roosevelt elk that frequently visits Gearhart. More than 50 Gearhart residents attended that meeting.

With numbers in the herd ballooning since that time, Mayor Brown and councilors plan to ask the department to do more. Brown said that was one of the questions the city sought clarification for in their January letter. “It would be nice to find out what folks can and cannot do.”

“Can I make some noise? Can I rattle a can at them?” Council member Paulina Cockrum asked. “Or will that start a stampede?”

“Folks that haven’t been around a herd don’t know that,” Brown said. “That’s the kind of information we are seeking.”

Brown said the best thing residents can do is write a letter to the city or post on the city’s website with positive and negative feedback. “We want that information to the ODFW. They can give us information on ways to warn people, on safety issues. They’re the only ones who can control wildlife populations. It’s not the city. We want to get opinions, feedback, documentation and we’ll send them to the ODFW. Together with this information, we can find ways to help mitigate safety, traffic accidents and dangerous situations. It’s a challenge for sure.”

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