The elk that roam through Gearhart are about to become the stars of their very own television program.
Well, at least a segment of a program. They will be featured on Oregon Public Broadcasting’s show, “Oregon Field Guide” at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 5.
“One of the things that attracted me to the story was that I know these animals to be very majestic and beautiful to look at,” said the program’s producer, Jule Gilfillan.
In Gilfillan’s initial research, she was inspired by a video on YouTube showing the elk bathing and frolicking in the Necanicum estuary and ocean surf.
“It’s beautiful footage,” said Gilfillan. “I was like like, wow, this is really something.”
“So I just kept researching it and realized also that there was somewhat of a controversy in that area,” she added. “Some people think the elk are just fantastic, and other people think they’re a nuisance. Some people are worried about safety. There were just various issues that came up, so I grabbed a photographer, and we went down last August and interviewed folks.”
The elk herd that visits Gearhart sparked enough discussion last spring to warrant a town hall meeting where residents discussed possible methods of dissuading the elk from coming to town. So far, they haven’t been dissuaded.
“We were kind of rolling the dice,” Gilfillan said. “I was like, gosh, I wonder if we’re going to see the herd. But we need not have worried, because they were right there.”
Gilfillan was taken aback, however, by the Gearhart herd’s comfort in proximity to humans.
“I have crawled along the pumice plain inside Mount St. Helens to try to get covered with elk urine so that I’m not smelling like a human in order to get close to elk,” she said. “They’re very skittish. They’re very aware. They have great senses of smell, and they know when a human is around.”
The Gearhart herd was different.
“These elk, I guess, are habituated enough to being in the midst of human activity that they really didn’t scare at all,” said Gilfillan. “And that was so unusual, according to my experience.”
Along with a cameraman, Gilfillan followed the herd closely for two days last August.
“They were in the dunes area, then they made their way into a neighborhood and then made themselves at home on a golf course,” said Gilfillan. “We just got amazing footage.”
“We met one poor woman who was chasing them out of her yard,” Gilfillan added. The incident presented the issue in a nutshell.
“There are legitimate safety concerns, I just feel that way personally,” said Gilfillan. “I think I wanted to honor all the opinions that I did hear, because I want to represent the community’s opinion authentically. So we found people with lots of different views.”
“I don’t think we take a stand,” she added. “But we explore the issue of how the community is going to grapple with it. I have a feeling this is not an uncommon experience in communities all over, particularly in the American west, and likely to become more so, because wildlife is more protected in some areas and that has allowed them to reproduce more, and we are also building in habitat.”
After the initial airing Thursday, the episode will be repeated at 1:30 a.m. and at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8, on OPB.