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The first elk season starts Wednesday and runs through Oct. 31. The second season runs Nov. 6-14. (Observer file photo).
The first elk season starts Wednesday and runs through Oct. 31. The second season runs Nov. 6-14. (Observer file photo).

By Dick Mason

Staff Writer

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Vic Coggins has never seen anything quite like it.

The forests of Wallowa County, quenched by late summer and early fall rains, may be greener before the first elk season than at any time during the 38 years he has worked as biologist in Wallowa County.

"Conditions are excellent, the forests may be greener than I have ever seen them (before the start of elk season),'' Coggins said.

The first elk season starts Wednesday and runs through Oct. 31. The second season runs Nov. 6-14.

In Union County forest conditions are also good because of summer and fall rains, said ODFW biologist Leonard Erickson.

The added greenery in forests means that elk are well-nourished and that hunters will be able to walk quietly through forests. At higher elevations in Wallowa County hunters will also have an easier time tracking elk because of snowfall above 5,550 feet.

Hunting in Wallowa County will be slow in the Wehaha Unit because of poor calf survival rates. However, in the rest of Wallowa County the outlook is good because of solid population levels. The exception is the Chesnimnus Unit which will be closed to hunting during the first season.

In Union County prospects are solid except for hunters looking for spikes in the Starkey Unit.

Hunters in the Starkey Unit will find fewer spike bulls than anytime in recent history. Spikes are yearlings born in the spring of 2003. Few of these young elk in the Starkey Unit survived, according to ODFW spring counts.

The spring count indicated that are just 16 calves (elk that are now yearlings) per 100 cows. This is the lowest number in Starkey since counts started about 50 years ago. The latest drop in elk survival comes on the heels of a four-year stretch in which annual calf-to-cow ratios in Starkey have plummeted to the 20s.

Prior to the late-1990s, calf survival rates were far higher. The rates usually ranged from 30 to 40 calves per 100 cows. The reason for the recent drop may be cougar predation.

The preliminary results of an ODFW study in the Sled Springs and Imnaha units of Wallowa County indicate that cougars may have a significant impact on elk calf survival. The preliminary finding is particularly significant since the Sled Springs and Imnaha units are similar to the Starkey Unit.

Most of Union County's elk are in the Starkey Unit, which stretches south from Kamela to the Anthony Lakes and includes Ladd Canyon.

In the Catherine Creek Unit, elk calf survival was significantly higher than in Starkey. However, the overall population remains significantly lower than the ODFW's management objective. Still except overall elk hunting prospects in Catherine Creek to be a little better than last year, Erickson said.

In the Mount Emily Unit, a portion of which is in Union County, calf survival was higher than in the Starkey and Catherine Creek units. There were 25 yearlings per 100 cows according to spring counts. This is one reason why hunters may have little better success in the Mount Emily Unit than the year before.

About 1,000 hunters are expected to be in the forests of Union County and around 2,000 will be in Wallowa County.

Hunters should check their Oregon Big Game Regulations 2004 synopsis for information on other road closures. Hunters are also reminded that special restrictions apply to transporting a locally harvested elk out of state.

Coggins noted that in the buck deer rifle season there were an exceptional number of problems with hunters trespassing. He is urging hunters to get permission before venturing on to private land.


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