In the fall of 1900, as the last of Wallowa County’s elk were being decimated, county commissioners sent a letter to the Secretary of Interior asking for help. The problem? Nez Perce were making “incursions” into the county and being “generally obnoxious and burdensome to the citizens.”

A sad parallel to settler culture excluding the people and things that long preceded them could be made to the disappointing Chieftain article accusing native wildlife of “encroaching” on our ranch-land over a century later. 

The article asserts elk are spending more time on the prairie and other places converted to ranch-lands than ever before. With no evidence, it definitively cites the reasons; we’re not converting enough trees into two by fours, there aren’t enough cows, there’s too much bunchgrass on the bunchgrass prairie, and we’re not killing enough native carnivores.  

Assertions parade as fact with nothing backing them up. Maybe parts of this narrative are true. But while throwing darts and good ole boy speculation is good entertainment at a bar, it’s not journalism. The narrative of blaming wildlife for the sin of being wild is tired. 

One wonders how elk survived alongside wolves, cougars and bear for millennia? What kept them off the prairie before we benevolent euro-settlers started managing things? How do we know? 

It seems no less likely it’s because we’ve built stock ponds eliminating what was once a limiting factor. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been stubbornly suppressing fire on the landscape for over a century after cutting down most of the native old-growth and killing the last of the grizzly. Maybe it’s because ODFW tries to inflate elk numbers. 

Is it because wildlife will never understand the difference between our ranch-land and their homes? 

Maybe it’s because the Wallowa-Whitman is one of the most densely-roaded National Forests in America. The science (from a nearby research station of world renown) clearly shows that roads displace elk. Further, cows displace elk which displace declining mule deer. Seeing elk from the road or a cow bedding down near elk doesn’t disprove the point. 

Why not tell those stories? Why bury the lead? The fact that ODFW is rewarding convicted elk poachers by allowing them to legally kill more — now that’s news!

Rob Klavin 


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