Leave deer and elk alone

January 16, 2002 12:00 am

Baker Valley hasnt always been surveyed and fenced off into fields and private property.

Once upon a time, the herds of deer and elk that call the surrounding hills and mountains home would spend portions of their winter grazing in the valley.

That doesnt work today, when such grazing competes with domestic livestock, or worse cuts into the feed ranchers put out for their cattle. Bambi basically makes off with a piece of an operations profits.

The answer since 1971 has been wildlife feeding stations like the Elkhorn Wildlife Area west of North Powder. There, employees of the Oregon Department of Wildlife feed deer and elk herds, discouraging them from venturing forth into the valley to forage for food and pillage from haystacks.

But the practice has aroused some unwanted attention from the public, too many of whom are trespassing on the sites and spooking the animals.

Some plead ignorance; education can help.

Others might have darker motives, or just figure public land cant be closed to public access, although forest fires and mining and logging operations are all examples of public closures on public lands. Wildlife feeding is no different.

However, in this case the trespasser doesnt pose a danger to himself; he poses a danger to the animals on the feed site.

An animal scared off from a feed site might not return to eat. That might force it to strike out for a farmers field, or weaken waiting for spring to come.

ODFW is asking the public to stay off the feed sites except during authorized tours with agency employees or a Haines outfit that runs weekend commercial elk feeding tours.

That should be enough to answer the needs of shutterbugs and families.

What remains, then, are two types of folks, driven by profit or pilfering.

Some deer shed their antlers at feed sites. With a re-sale market, some people disregard the posted no trespassing to hunt for the horns.

Others might have even worse intentions, scouting herds for poaching potential.

The answer appears to be two pronged.

On one front, ODFW must continue with public awareness efforts, and consider the viability of increased viewing options like the elk tours offered on weekends.

Simultaneously, the agency must work with game officers from the Oregon State Police to prosecute those caught trespassing and investigate when indications are that more severe criminal behavior is brewing.