Of the Baker City Herald

Keeping winter-hungry elk and deer away from hay meant for Herefords is hard enough without also having to keep people away from the elk and the deer.

This, though, is Eddie Miguezs dilemma.

Miguez manages the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlifes Elkhorn Wildlife Area.

He is responsible for 10 sites along the eastern base of the Elkhorn Mountains where he and his crew feed more than 1,000 elk and several hundred deer, usually from December into March.

All the sites are closed to the public each winter from Dec. 1 through April 10.

But over the past few years Miguez and other ODFW employees have noticed an increase in the number of people who ignore the closure and trespass on the feed sites.

They come for a variety of reasons, Miguez said to photograph the animals, to hunt for shed antlers, to throttle snowmobiles through fresh powder.

But the effect is the same, even if the intent is not: The elk and the deer run away, expending precious energy they need to survive this time of snow and cold; and sometimes, although rarely, they even abandon the feed sites altogether.

And when those animals leave the feed sites they can get into trouble as quickly as a baby who just wriggled between the bars of his crib.

We dont want those animals driven or harassed from those feed sites onto adjacent private lands, where they can get into somebody elses haystacks, Miguez said.

Preventing that damage was, after all, the reason the state created the Wildlife Area in the early 1970s, and why it has added acreage and feed sites several times since.

The states solution has been a success, too, as the problem of elk and deer marauding haystacks is only a memory for most landowners in the Baker, Bowen and North Powder valleys.

Miguez said ODFW officials havent cited anyone for trespassing on the feed sites, nor do they want to.

But he said they might have to start writing tickets if the problems continue.

Miguez said he has found trespassers on almost all the feed sites, but interestingly, the violation is more common at the only two sites where visitors can actually see the animals without crossing the Wildlife Area boundary.

Those sites are along Anthony Creek, near the Wildlife Area headquarters about eight miles west of North Powder, and at the southernmost feed site off Old Auburn Road southwest of Baker City.

Visitors who want up-close photographs of elk neednt trespass to get them, Miguez said.

At the Anthony Creek feed site, two Haines women operate a horse-drawn wagon on weekends, hauling passengers right out among the elk as they munch protein-rich alfalfa.

Not even at a zoo are you likely to get so close to elk.

The animals at the Anthony Creek feed site are so used to the wagons presence that they dont flee when they see it, Miguez said.

But if an unfamiliar vehicle, or even a person on foot, approaches the herd, the elk sprint for the nearby forest edge, he said.

Theyre acclimated to that wagon, theyre not acclimated to people just walking down there, said George Keister, district wildlife biologist at ODFWs Baker City office.

Miguez said most of the people hes found trespassing at the feed sites dont realize theyre likely to frighten the elk and deer.

When they understand that, most apologize and dont make the mistake again, he said.

Only a few people are nasty about it, Miguez said.

Some of those claim they have the right to enter public land any time, for any reason, he said.

And occasionally a trespasser will plead ignorance, although Miguez said thats a hard story to swallow considering the Wildlife Area boundaries are posted with no trespassing signs and the Dec. 1-April 10 closure is listed in the hunting synopses.

(That closure used to extend to April 15, Miguez said, but he changed it to allow wild turkey hunters a few days to scout for the elusive birds before the spring hunting season starts on Tax Day.)

Snapping photographs isnt the only lure of the feed sites.

Beginning about now, people start to search for shed antlers, and some find their way to the feed sites, Miguez said.

Besides being illegal, such forays, especially for elk antlers, usually are fruitless, Keister said most bull elk dont drop their antlers for at least another month.

Deer and elk, and ranchers who lose precious hay, arent the only victims of trespassing on feed sites.

At the Muddy Creek site, for example, the most common problem is caused by sledders on the steep access road, Miguez said.

The hill is far enough from the feed site that sledders probably dont bother the animals, he said, but their plastic saucers and rubber innertubes turn the road into a skating rink. ODFW workers have to drive on that rink every day.

A few years ago trespassing was a common occurrence at the Salmon Creek feed site west of Baker City, Keister said.

ODFW solved the problem by installing a gate.

But at several other gated sites, including Muddy Creek, the snow usually is so deep that its impractical to open and close the gate every day, so generally its left open, Miguez said.

The no trespassing signs, though, are still there.

Keister said he suspects most trespassers dont realize that the effects of harassing elk and deer are cumulative.

Theyre going to get some harassment, he said, simply from the presence of ODFW workers, who not only feed the animals but also count them and trap some every winter to take blood samples required for disease screening.

But we try to keep that harassment to a minimum, Keister said.

Miguez said he and his staff will accommodate requests for tours of the feed sites when possible.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Wildlife Area can call him at 898-2826.