Too Many Deer on the Road? Let Cougars Return, Study Says

Cougars can kill hundreds of deer over the course of their lives, leading some scientists to argue that restoring them to 19 states with large populations of deer could prevent automobile-deer collisions.
JULY 18, 2016
What large mammal regularly kills humans in the Eastern United States?

And what other large mammal might significantly reduce those deaths?

The answer to the first question is the white-tailed deer. Deer do not set out to murder people, as far as anyone knows, but they do jump out in front of vehicles so often that they cause more than a million collisions a year, resulting in more than 200 deaths.

The answer to the second question, according to a new scientific study, is the cougar.
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‘Animal versus animal’ as elk, dogs clash

By R.J. Marx

The Daily Astorian

Published on July 19, 2016 8:25AM

Last changed on July 19, 2016 9:09AM

GEARHART — A pet whippet was trampled and killed by a herd of deer at the Reserve at Gearhart this month. In another incident reported to Gearhart Police, an elk kicked a dog and broke the dog’s legs. A Little Beach resident said he saw a herd menace kayakers this month when they approached too close to the shore.

“They will sometimes get aggressive,” Wildlife Communications Coordinator Michelle Dennehy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said. “It can happen anytime. The advice for pets and people is to try to keep away.”

Oregon has two types of elk, Dennehy said, Roosevelt elk on the coast and Rocky Mountain elk in the Cascades. Roosevelt elk bulls typically weigh 900 pounds, and cows clear 600 pounds. Roosevelt elk in western Oregon have the larger body size, but typically Rocky Mountain elk — prevalent in Eastern Oregon — have larger antlers. “This makes sense when you think about how Roosevelt elk need to get through very thick brush,” she said.

With calving season, people and their pets are well-advised to steer clear of the herd, she said, which can reach 60 or more.
Dogs no match
A sign posted by the dunes in Gearhart warns: “Keep clear of the elk. Elk will charge to defend calves.”

Gearhart Police Chief Jeff Bowman said the risk increases at a time when elk cows are protective of newborn calves. “It all boils down to an animal versus animal, and the elk aren’t going to back down from a dog coming at them. They’ve got babies. If people are walking and not having their dogs on a leash, they’d better be looking for the elk.”

Everywhere there are elk, “people should have their dogs on leash,” naturalist and photographer Neal Maine said. “A modern-day dog really doesn’t understand an elk, and most people think the elk are going to run away from a dog. Elk can chase them, much like people take their dogs to the beach to chase birds around for exercise. Coyotes and wolves are two of their past enemies, so they’re all set up to take them out.”

The behavior may be brutal. Once they get a dog down, “they pound on them with their feet,” Maine said. “It’s part of their reaction to a predator.”

“If your dog is cornered — you wouldn’t want to intervene, unless you’re really foolhardy,” Maine added.

John Dudley has a home by Little Beach in Gearhart, ground zero for the elk population, where he chronicles the path of the elk with his camera. “The difference lately has been there have been calves in the herd, week-old calves,” Dudley said. “It’s postpartum time for the cows.”

One “alpha bull,” recognizable by a small but visible scar on his right shoulder, in the herd is particularly aggressive, Dudley said.

Sometimes the bull becomes “rather agitated,” herding the others, corralling them, and fighting off young bulls who consider themselves “pretenders to the throne.”

Dudley said he witnessed an encounter when a kayaker in the estuary was pulled toward the shore by the tide. The kayakers drifted closer to the herd and they pulled out cellphones to film the encounter.

“Suddenly something spooked the elk and en masse they galloped south,” Dudley said. “They could have just as easily stampeded over the kayakers.”
Taking cues
Normally, Gearhart’s elk herd “kind of moseys,” Bowman said.

Hikers and visitors should take heed when “their heads come up from their feeding and they’re staring at you and they’re not turning,” he said. “Turn around and go back,” Bowman said. “They’ll leave you alone. They aren’t going to chase you down. Their heads are going to go back down and they’ll continue eating.”

Elk eat 50 pounds a day — “and they don’t care if it’s your garden, off the golf course or through the woods,” Bowman said.

People should not attempt to approach the elk for cellphone pictures. “If they want to do photography, get a camera,” Maine said. “Elk photography with a cellphone is not productive.”

“The two times I’ve seen chase-downs, they’d been trying to get close enough to get a cellphone shot,” Maine said.
Observing nature
Maine advised the best way to enjoy the elk is to appreciate “an amazing creature that’s been here for thousands of years.”

“We should learn to become observers of wildlife, he said, and take 15 minutes to watch the interaction between the cows and the calves and the spikes,” Maine said. “Keep your distance and watch the phenomena of them moving, feeding, interacting, so you’re observing something, not just trying to get a picture. Watch their behavior and be intrigued and interested in that part of it. That gets missed by the drive-by folks.”

Prior to European settlement, more than 10 million elk roamed nearly all of the United States and parts of Canada, with about 1 million today.

Maine said at one point, less than a century ago, the elk were virtually extinct in Clatsop County from overhunting. Hunting was closed for about 10 years as elk were reintroduced into the area. “There are people who say their grandpa had a picture of elk being unloaded from a train in downtown Seaside to transplant here.”

To stay safe, keep your dog on a leash, no elk selfies and observe, don’t interfere, Maine said. “The reason this area is so rich and so beautiful and so wonderful is because there’s still wildlife in the habitat. So observe it, enjoy it and have it make your day richer.”

Manmade problem led wolves to kill elk

By Jared Lloyd

A lot of noise has been made about the 19 elk killed last month by a pack of wolves in Bondurant. What has been lost throughout much of the coverage are the facts about what actually led to this extremely rare occurrence. Behind the headlines is a manmade story. To be able to understand what went down that night in Wyoming, these facts need to be understood.

To begin with, the elk in question were killed on a feedlot. Just like cattle, in Wyoming elk have feedlots as well. Picture anywhere between a few hundred to a few thousand “wild” elk standing around waiting to be fed. Wyoming has elk feedlots all over the place. Come winter, these feeding grounds shovel out bales of hay for the elk like they are livestock. Elk are heavily concentrated in these feedlots, fed all winter long, and have learned to just stand around waiting for their daily handouts.

So why does Wyoming feed elk in the first place? Is it because predators in the ecosystem are killing so many? No. Wyoming actually considers elk to be overpopulated. This practice was started in part to keep elk from competing with cattle back when predators across the Rocky Mountains were at their lowest numbers. In the absence of predators, elk populations exploded. Come winter, these animals would flood onto ranches in search of food, gorging themselves on stocks of hay.

So what has all this done to the elk? Quite simply, elk no longer act like elk. Given that these animals have grown up in a relatively predator-free environment for nearly 100 years, elk are now being forced to come to terms with the reality of predators again. And in order to survive, lesson number one is not to stand around in groups of a several thousand, in one place, for months on end waiting for handouts from humans.

So what did the wolves do? They committed what is known as surplus killing. Occasionally, when prey is so plentiful, predators will kill multiple animals in one go. Scientists state that when faced with a bonanza such as the feedlot provided, wolves may kill with the intention to return as often as that food is available.


copyrighted wolf in water

MT Wardens seeking information on elk poaching at Montana game range

HAMILTON – Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials are hoping the public will help them track down people who killed two elk on a game range and left one to rot Wednesday.

FWP Warden Capt. Joe Jaquith said someone killed two elk on the Three Mile Game Range northeast of Stevensville either late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

The poachers drove behind a closed sign to retrieve one of the elk and left the other cow elk behind.

“We are hoping to talk with anyone coming in or out of the game range (Wednesday) morning who saw a vehicle with an elk in the back,” Jaquith said. “We are interested in getting any information that people might be able to provide about that.”

Jaquith urged anyone with information to call the TIP-MONT hotline at 800-847-6668.

Anyone providing information that leads to an arrest in the case will be eligible for a reward. Those providing information can remain anonymous.

Hunters shoot two elk – then realise they were firing through fence into zoo

1610111_10152194241138908_1599987755_n “A group of hunters in Norway have shot dead two elk – before
realising seconds later they were firing through a fence into the
animal’s enclosure in a zoo.”

What Fresh Hell Is This?

What do you call a war waged on unarmed opponents?  Considering the rate and frequency of shooting I’m hearing out there now, there’s a massacre going on. If the victims being slain were human, it would be called mass murder. A pre-dawn ambush. All-out insanity. Evil incarnate.

But to the hunters on opening day annihilating ducks and geese, it’s tradition; harvesting nature; business as usual.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Someone must have signaled “charge” to an entire platoon waiting to attack at dawn, and a mindless barrage of semi-automatic shotgun fire shattered the morning air. Now it’s 7:30 a.m. and only the random explosions break the stillness. The blitzkrieg has been going on steadily for over forty-five minutes—since before first light (sunrise today is officially at 7:35, according to the NOAA weather radio).

I wasn’t sure if the “enemy,” no, “opponent,” no, victims were the elk herd who occasionally visit the neighbor’s hayfield, the stray black-tail deer who keep themselves mostly out of sight around here for fear of poachers, or the ducks and geese who are starting to gather on their customary wintering grounds. Judging by the constant rapid gun fire, the victims must be the “waterfowl” whose “season” started today.

What fresh hell is this? Armageddon for avian kind? Or just another opening day for sport hunters?

Things you see when you don’t have a camera

A trip to town yesterday was pretty amazing, wildlife-wise. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera. From the north side of the Astoria bridge we saw the humpback whale who’s been seen hanging out around in the lower Colombia River for a few days.

Then, after visiting the sea lions who reside on the East Moring Basin docks, we went to Hammond, by to Fort Stevens State Park, and watched a friendly herd of elk close up in a scene reminiscent of Mammoth Village in Yellowstone National Park. 

For a grand finale, we stopped to walk the dog at the “Dismal Niche”* rest area (*a name indicative of Lewis and Clark’s lack of appreciation of the area),  and saw a group of around 30 harbor seals just offshore in a channel of river. They were treading water, popping up and going under, probably looking for fish though we never saw them catch any). Perhaps they were just enjoying the gentle current in the eddy they found there. 

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

Sans Sea Lions, the Port of Astoria Would Miss the Boat

Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River at the top of the Oregon Coast, Astoria, can be a nice small town to visit, if you like sea lions. If not, it can be a cold, heartless and otherwise pretty boring place. DSC_0043

The entertaining pinnipeds lounging, cavorting and guarding their tiny spot on a couple of the docks in the town’s East Moring Basin are a must see for anyone who enjoys connecting with the wildlife close-up.

DSC_0055 DSC_0073

Unfortunately, a few of the locals are more fulfilled by hating and shooting the friendly, comical sea lions despite the steady draw they bring to this depressed and rather depressing town which makes a temporary living through extraction of dwindling natural resources, such as fish and trees (many of which are shipped to China on giant, diesel carbon-spewing container ships). Not unlike so many other instances in society, it’s really only a few local people, claiming all for humans, who want the sea lions evicted, but they don’t mind ruining it for everyone else.                                                          

Also see:

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, All Rights Reserved

A similar situation is going on in nearby Gearhart, just north of Seaside, Oregon. A herd of Roosevelt elk recently moved into the quietish town (after being crowded out of their former home by development, including a Home Depot, Petco, Staples, Dollar Store, a couple of auto dealerships, and a relocated, expanded super-Costco, with more to come soon—all, ironically—on “Dolphin” Lane). For now they enjoy the dunes along the beach, but that could all change if the few who resent wildlife in their proximity have their way…


250 Native Elk Die Inside Fenced-in Area at Point Reyes National Seashore

For Immediate Release, April 16, 2015

—Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

—Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Contact: Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185

250 Native Elk Die Inside Fenced-in Area at Point Reyes National Seashore

Despite High Mortality, Park Service Considering Plan to Remove or
Fence Free-roaming Elk at Behest of Ranchers

POINT REYES, Calif.— The National Park Service has acknowledged that that more than 250 tule elk died inside the fenced Pierce Point Elk Preserve at California’s Point Reyes National Seashore from 2012 to 2014, likely due to lack of access to year-round water. While nearly half the elk inside the fenced area died, free-roaming Point Reyes elk herds with access to water increased by nearly a third during the same period.

The news comes as the Park Service considers a ranch management plan to either remove or fence in some of the free-roaming elk herds, while extending park cattle grazing leases for up to 20 years.

“Tule elk need room to roam, and native wildlife in our national park should not be fenced in or prevented from finding water and food,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The loss of nearly half the Pierce Point elk herd highlights how important it is that the Park Service not cave to commercial ranchers who want free-roaming Point Reyes elk fenced in.”

Tule elk are native and endemic to California. There were once 500,000 tule elk in the state but by the late 1800s impacts from cattle ranching and hunting had reduced them to only 28 elk. From one surviving herd, tule elk were reintroduced throughout the state and there are now 4,300 elk in 25 herds. Tule elk were returned to Pierce Point at Point Reyes in 1978, and a free-ranging herd was established in the park in 1998. Point Reyes Seashore is the only national park with tule elk.

The Pierce Point herd declined from 540 elk in fall of 2012 to 286 elk by 2014, a drop of 47 percent. There are no natural year-round fresh water sources on Pierce Point and the elk in the preserve are prevented from migrating by a large, elk-proof fence. During the same drought period, the free-roaming Point Reyes elk herds — which had access to water — increased by 32 percent. The Limantour herd grew from 94 to 120 elk and the Drakes Beach herd increased from 66 to 92 elk.

Cattle ranchers who enjoy heavily subsidized cattle grazing leases on public lands within the national seashore are lobbying the Park Service toremove or fence out the free-roaming elk from ranching areas, because elk are eating grass they believe should be reserved solely for their cattle. The Park Service is considering evicting the free-roaming elk under a planning process initiated for 28,000 acres of leased dairy and beef cattle ranches within the park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area lands in Marin County administered by the national seashore. The Park Service is also proposing extending ranching leases for up to 20 years, and may allow ranchers to expand their operations to animals other than cattle, which would create more conflicts between livestock and native wildlife.

“The reintroduction of elk to the Point Reyes peninsula is a success story for conservation of native species, but the elk are in jeopardy of eviction to benefit a few lease holders,” said Miller. “The Park Service already prioritizes commercial cattle grazing in Point Reyes. Now these subsidized ranchers want to dictate park policies that could eliminate native elk and harm predators and other wildlife.”

There are 13 cows for every elk in the national seashore, with nearly 6,500 dairy and beef cattle and only 498 elk. One-quarter of the national seashore is devoted to commercial cattle operations, with grazing on nearly 18,000 acres under 39 leases. Ten ranching families were paid $19.6 million by the public from 1963 to 1978 for the purchase of ranch lands added to Point Reyes National Seashore. Many of those same families still enjoy heavily subsidized grazing lease rates within the park, paying one-half to one-third the cost they would pay for non-federal grazing land in Marin.

The Park Service is required under its enabling legislation to manage the seashore “without impairment of its natural values” and for “maximum protection, restoration, and preservation of the natural environment.” Restoring native wildlife and ecosystem processes is supposed to be one of the primary missions of the Park Service.

Elk graze on grasses and flowering plants and also browse shrubs and trees. Unlike cattle, elk move around to take advantage of seasonal food sources. Elk can reduce fire danger by browsing brush that is unpalatable to cattle, without impacts to water quality. Extensive studies have documented the negative environmental impacts of overgrazing cattle, including erosion and soil loss, water pollution, degradation of wetland and stream habitats and spread of invasive plants.

Cattle-ranching requires excessive amounts of water — each beef and dairy cow drinks 12 and 35 gallons of water per day, respectively. Accounting for all water use, a typical dairy farm with around 700 cows can use over 3 million gallons of water every day; and every pound of California beef requires about 2,464 gallons of water to produce.

Point Reyes ranchers raise the specter of Johne’s disease as a reason for evicting the Point Reyes elk.Johne’s is a wasting disease of domestic livestock that is spread from confined cattle to wild ruminants such as elk and deer. It is documented that Point Reyes cattle infected the Pierce Point elk herd with the disease. The disease takes 3 to 4 years to produce symptoms. By that time, milk production of most dairy cows peaks and they are removed for slaughter, but infected elk begin to waste away. The Park Service reports that more than 200 recent testing samples show no evidence of the disease in the free-roaming elk. Despite previous high rates of cattle infection in Point Reyes dairies, the Park Service does not require testing or reporting of the disease.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Public Overwhelmingly Supports Free-ranging Tule Elk Herd

—Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

—Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Public Overwhelmingly Supports Free-ranging Tule Elk Herd at Point Reyes National Seashore

Ranchers Lobbying Park Service to Remove or Fence Out Native Elk

POINT REYES, Calif.— The vast majority of 3,000 public comments on a ranch-management plan for Point Reyes National Seashore support allowing a free-roaming tule elk herd to stay at Outer Point Reyes rather than being fenced in or removed. The comments were released today by the National Park Service as part of a planning process initiated for 28,000 acres of dairy and beef cattle ranches within the national park.

“Point Reyes tule elk are highly beloved by visitors, photographers, naturalists and locals alike. The public doesn’t want these elk relocated, fenced into an exhibit, shot, sterilized or any of the other absurd proposals from ranchers who enjoy subsidized grazing privileges in our national seashore,” said Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is the only national park with native tule elk — it’s not a ‘national ranch’ or a zoo exhibit, and it shouldn’t be managed that way. If the park takes any steps toward fencing or relocating elk, it will create a legal and public-relations fight that it will lose.”

The Park Service is considering extending existing ranching leases for up to 20 years. The management plan will address concerns about alleged conflicts between tule elk and ranch operations. The Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association, Marin Supervisor Steve Kinsey and Congressman Jared Huffman are demanding that the Park Service remove free-ranging tule elk from the “pastoral zone” or build an extraordinarily large, environmentally damaging elk-proof fence to keep elk out of ranching areas. Many ranchers claim that elk cause economic impacts by eating grass they believe belongs solely to their cattle.

“Tule elk are an ecologically important part of the landscape of Point Reyes National Seashore, while cattle grazing permits are a privilege and certainly not a free pass to try to dictate Park Service policy that harms park wildlife,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Ranching and wild elk herds can coexist at the seashore, but if ranchers want to manufacture a fight over cattle versus elk, they are likely to quickly learn that the vast majority of Americans rightly choose wildlife over cows in our parks.”

The ranchers in the national seashore enjoy heavily subsidized cattle grazing lease rates on public lands within the park. They bizarrely characterize native tule elk as “invasive” because they were extirpated in the 1800s when ranchers and market hunters eliminated them from the Point Reyes peninsula and most of California. Tule elk were reintroduced to Point Reyes in 1978, and a free-ranging elk herd was established in the park in 1998.

Tule elk have been grazing the Point Reyes peninsula for about 10,000 years, except during from the late 1800s, when they were eliminated from most of California. They returned in 1978 when the National Park Service reintroduced elk to Tomales Point. Tule elk have taken well to reintroduction, and the Tomales Point herd is one of the largest of the 22 herds in California, with a stable population of 450 elk, which are fenced in on the remote point.

The Park Service last prepared an elk management plan in 1998, with an environmental assessment considering alternatives for managing elk on Tomales Point, and decided on a plan to establish a free-ranging herd within the park. The Park Service reintroduced 28 tule elk to the Limantour wilderness area in 1998. The Limantour herd has grown to 65 elk, and a sub-herd established itself near Drakes Beach, now numbering 55 elk, nowhere near the park’s stated management limit of 250-350 elk. The 1998 reintroduction plan allowed capture and relocation of wayward elk, contraception of elk in the event of the herd surpassing 250-350 elk, and even killing aggressive elk that had conflicts with cattle ranches, which has only happened once.

The Park Service is required to manage Point Reyes National Seashore “without impairment of its natural values” and for “maximum protection, restoration, and preservation of the natural environment.” The reintroduction of elk to the Point Reyes peninsula is a success story for conservation of native species and restoring ecosystem processes, one of the primary missions of the National Park Service. Free‐ranging elk, as browsers, play an important role in reducing fire danger by reducing brush that is unpalatable to cattle, and without negative impacts to water quality.

Some of the ranchers at the national seashore routinely violate their lease conditions by stocking excess cattle, allowing cattle to trespass out of the pastoral zone (where they are eating forage needed by wildlife) and raising animals not allowed in their leases — with no consequences. Public-lands ranchers at the seashore pay less than half of the grazing rent they would pay outside the park on private lands ($7 to $9 per animal unit month inside the park compared with $15 to $20 outside), which already more than compensates these livestock operators for any wildlife impacts.