The Chieftain has received a statement from Lissa Casey, attorney for Larry Harshfield, and his wife, Pam.
The content of that statement is published here.
The Oregon State Police and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife have been trying to convict Mike Harshfield in the court of public opinion before the District Attorney ever charged him with a crime.
Even though he had a lawyer, he was arrested and taken to jail in a political maneuver by the police, while the DA was out of the office. 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.
He and his family can’t be silent anymore in the face of the public information campaign the government is waging against him.
–– Lissa Casey, Attorney for Larry Michael Harshfield
I would like to address the ODFW press release and explain our side of the story in hopes you might gain some perspective on the issues of the large elk populations in Wallowa County on private property and the prohibitive expense and hardship land owners are incurring.
We have been on our ranch in Wallowa, since December 1977 –– 40 years. Nothing has been given to us.
In the beginning, it was very difficult to make the annual payments. To help make these payments and cover expenses, Larry (Mike), has driven log truck full-time for 50 years. We do not own a trucking company. He is an owner/operator of one truck. It has taken hard work and long hours to call 450 acres our own.
We have tried to manage the land here wisely and not abuse the resources it has to offer. There has been water and forage development that has benefited our livestock and all the wildlife this ranch supports.
We have always been mindful to not over-graze the property and keep the invasive weeds in check. There is approximately 130 acres in production which is where the hay is produced to feed our cattle herd.
It is managed in a rotational plan with portions farmed each year to keep yields as productive as possible. Putting a crop in annually is expensive and labor intensive. My husband and I take great pride in our work.
I am estimating that about 20 years ago, a small herd of elk about 15-20 head started coming to our ranch. It was always in late summer or early fall. We actually enjoyed seeing them. It wasn’t a problem at this time. With low numbers of elk, there was enough feed to share.
We bring our cattle herd back to the ranch mid to late September. By this time, most of the hay crop is in the bale and stored in hay sheds for winter feeding. We try to irrigate again and grow back some fall forage for the cattle to graze before weaning the calves. By late November we start feeding the hay produced on our ranch.
The years since the first arrival of the elk here have changed dramatically. We have watched that small herd increase in numbers to now approximately 200 head.
Our ranch has become part of their range. It has become apparent that the elk have come earlier and stay longer. Generations of that herd flourish here and instinctively come here.
Being nocturnal animals, they always arrive about dusk and will spend all night grazing in our hay fields and eating large amounts of the regrowth of grass and alfalfa intended for our cattle.
It is also during the rutting season when numerous bull elk bugle and compete for breeding rights. I have photographed large areas where the ground is bare from the bulls fighting with one another and also rubbing their antlers.
We have watched the elk trail into our hay fields while we are still there with our equipment finishing our long days of work putting up our hay crop. Even if we deter them, they leave temporarily and return when we have left the fields.
The winter of 2016-17 came early to Wallowa County and has been about the worst I have seen in 40 years we have been on this property. Along with heavy snowfall, came sub-zero temperatures which lasted many weeks instead of days.
We started noticing large numbers of elk appearing on our hill ground and in the hay fields. They had stayed in the valley appearing to be trapped because of the deep snow.
Then things changed suddenly and the elk were coming into our barn lot, feeding in our hay sheds. This had never been an issue before. Imagine if you will, 150-200 head eating the hay we were needing for our cattle.
I began calling ODFW for help with this huge problem, and all I heard was shot gun shells for hazing and depredation tags. All this was during minus-25 degree temperatures and many sleepless nights.
My husband was up 2-3 times a night hazing the elk out of the hay sheds. He would haze them out of our barn lot with our 4-wheel drive tractor because the snow was so deep because that was the only way to get around in the deep snow.
He would haze them about ¾ of a mile, only to have them turn around and follow him back, staying just out of the tractor headlights. Nothing worked and the desperate, hungry elk came back.
We offered to feed them if ODFW provided the hay. We were told that there were no funds available for that. I highly encourage anyone who is interested, to look up an article and video on what Idaho Fish & Game did for their elk and deer populations this winter on the Tex-Creek Wildlife Management Area. They planned and initiated a feeding operation with concerns for both private property landowners and the wildlife.
It was also during this time that concern became urgent regarding the snow loads of all of our out-buildings and home. Another stressful situation to add to the elk problem. We would look out our kitchen window and see up to 200 head of elk in our barn lot and hay sheds.
As the snow slid off the hay sheds, they were able to climb up snow banks and tear through the netting to get hay. As the snow got deeper, they were even able to get over the fencing.
The situation was desperate. Keep in mind again, that the elk came into feedlots with cattle in them and hay sheds. Who in their right mind would shoot into a herd of cattle attempting to haze the elk?
I began calling ODFW about our concerns approximately 15 years ago. In the beginning, the agency was willing to cost share some of the expenses such as fertilizer, fencing and weed control. That now has changed, and I am told there is no longer any assistance available.
All they are willing to do is issue hazing permits and shotgun shells, some depredation tags and plastic fencing. Two years ago I sent them a bill for $10,000 to cover our loss of hay and fall pasture. No compensation was paid.
On Feb. 11, two OSP game wardens drove onto our property. e were informed there had been an anonymous call of possible dead elk on our ranch. They told us there had been a search warrant issued and that four additional troopers were en route with high-track ATV’s to conduct an investigation. Later I was told that they had flown the ranch prior to getting the search warrant.
The investigation began with four troopers on high-track ATV’s covering the entire 450 acres of our ranch. Troopers Knapp and Miller stayed back to search the hay sheds and barn lot. We finished our feeding chores, and Mike again told the game wardens of our extreme problems with the elk on our property.
It has been stated by Mike Hanson of the ODFW, that they have been trying to work with us. This is partially true. We put hunters names on the depredation tag list, and people did get tags and fill them. I was told that we had to prove we had done everything they suggested before ODFW would issue the kill permits.
Next we put up rolls of their plastic fencing around the hay shed and had to hire two men to do this, only to have it torn and pulled down by the next morning. Next came $6,000 worth of 7-foot, heavy metal panels, purchased by us, which weren’t in our operating budget for the year.
Again I called ODFW and was told the kill permits would be available, but Larry (Mike) and I had to do all of the work. Is it realistic to assume that we have the time to kill, dress and deliver elk to the local butcher shop with the kill permits they offered?
Imagine doing this in the extreme weather conditions, while tending to our cattle during the day. I even asked ODFW if they would come out and kill and dress them out. The answer was no.
We have to care for our animals all day long in sub-zero temps and then care for 200 of the State of Oregon’s elk herd all night long. Not once did any of the ODFW employees offer to come out and survey the damage being done or help haze the elk.
In answer to the accusations that we don’t allow hunters, that is not correct. We have allowed people we know, who can utilize the meat, to purchase depredation tags. Often times they are working during the week and can only hunt on weekends or evenings.
This limits the time that the tags allow. Another reason we have limited hunters coming on our property, if the hunters come from outside Wallowa County, they are not familiar with our fence lines. We do not have permission from adjoining landowners to kill elk on their ground.
Yes, we are particular who hunts on our property as we feel responsible if shots are fired towards neighbor’s homes and an elk is killed off of our property.
We are honest, law-abiding citizens. We pay our taxes and support many local businesses. This did not have to happen, but any solution offered had minimal results
As a final comment, the elk carcasses did not go to waste. Many bald eagles, coyotes and other wildlife have benefited and continue to benefit from them during this harshest of winters in many years.
In hindsight, I regret not calling the Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office or the Oregon State Police repeatedly during this crisis so they would have come out and seen first-hand what we were dealing with and all of the damage being done.
Only my husband and I know. It’s our word against theirs.
–– Pam Harshfield, wife of Larry Michael Harshfield