Connie Dunham's letter (3/13/19) about elk encroachment on Wallowa County ranchland tries to link it, naturally, to wolves, claiming they drive elk to the safety of the valley. Solution: kill wolves, and while at it, kill cougars too. But these two (especially wolves) are primary elk predators, natural governors of elk populations. Is it smart to kill those that help cap elk numbers if you're worried about too many elk?
Perhaps, as Dunham says, a solution is to increase, if justified, the number of special ranch hunting tags. If, as she says, elk leave areas where they have been hunted (by man or beast), then this should move them on.
The issue of elk encroachment came to a head in the winter of 2016/17 when a Wallowa rancher, Mike Harshfield, illegally slaughtered 25 elk on his and adjacent land, leaving them to rot. He was convicted in a plea deal on six counts (Chieftain 6/30/17). His wife, Pam, was one of two ranchers interviewed for the Chieftain lead story (2/20/19) which inspired this series of letters. That winter was brutal, driving deer and elk down to the valley. Forty thousand head of cattle in the county has reduced grazing available to wildlife and in places degraded public grazing land. Recent weather variables have made matters worse.
Elk have been using the valley time out of mind, except during the turn of the 20th century when they were extirpated by ranchers and meat hunters. Elk and other wildlife do have a place even on private land, although some producers still look to those days when maybe they didn't.
Elk reintroduction in 1912 was resisted by many ranchers. One, Jay Dobbin, was quoted in a 1912 Chieftain story (as reported in The Observer (12/12/2008): “We who have been in here for years and who believe have done our part making the county a producer of wealth, feel that to turn the grazing land into a game preserve is a step backward.’’ Vestiges of this attitude linger yet.
Most livestock operators accept responsibility to share resources with the wild community. Hopefully, others like Connie Dunham will share this responsibility rather than calling for, yearning for, the old solution: slaughtering wildlife.