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The Observer paper 12/26/14

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WINTER GOLD

Elk eat alfalfa hay at the Anthony Creek feeding site Wednesday morning. About 200 elk are fed at Anthony Creek. (Observer photos/DICK MASON).
Elk eat alfalfa hay at the Anthony Creek feeding site Wednesday morning. About 200 elk are fed at Anthony Creek. (Observer photos/DICK MASON).

- Dick Mason

- The Observer

A big cat has occasionally been causing a big problem at the Elkhorn Wildlife Management Area.

It happened again last month, this time at Muddy Creek, about 15 miles southwest of North Powder.

A cougar began preying on deer and elk coming to the Muddy Creek feeding site and became such a threat deer and elk stayed away.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife addressed the problem three weeks ago when it brought in a team of dogs, tracked down and killed the cougar. Deer and elk returned to the feeding station after the cougar, a female, was removed, said Eddie Miguez, manager of the wildlife area.

Mountain lions are occasionally in the forest around many of the Elkhorn Wildlife Area's nine feeding stations. But they are not removed by the ODFW unless they cause a disruption.

Cougar interest in the sites is a testament to the success of the ODFW's Elkhorn feeding program, in place more than 15 years. The ODFW feeds about 1,400 elk and almost 500 deer daily in the winter through its station network. The elk and deer are fed to keep them off private land in the winter.

Feeding usually begins in November and extends to the second or third week of March when enough natural vegetation is again available. Feeding may end in early March this year because of the mild winter the region is experiencing, Miguez said.

ODFW staff members drive 145 miles a day to the nine feed stations. They open an alfalfa hay storage shed, place hay on the back of a truck and distribute the hay. Elk and deer do not come down to feed at most sites, however, until the ODFW staffers are gone.

A major exception is the Anthony Creek feed site, seven miles west of North Powder. The 200 elk in the area are often at the site's grounds.

"They are right there all day,'' Miguez said.

The elk often come within 20 feet of the ODFW's feeding truck each morning as alfalfa is distributed.

"It's like feeding cattle,'' said Keith Jones of the ODFW.

These elk are accustomed to humans because each winter weekend many people are given wagon rides through the feeding area by T&T Wildlife Tours. More than 100 people are given tours on some weekends. The tours, provided since 1991, run each half hour from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

The Anthony Creek elk are accustomed to the routines followed by ODFW staffers and Susan Triplett and Alice Trindle, who run T&T. Any deviation from standard procedure, though, spooks the elk.

Miguez noted that earlier this week he got out of his pickup to put de-icer on a bridge at Anthony Creek.

"They thought this was strange and ran right out of there,'' Miguez said.

About 200 elk eat at the Anthony Creek site.

The most popular feeding area, however, is the Auburn site, where 475 head of elk eat. Auburn is 10 miles south of Baker City. Auburn is the site of a long abandoned gold mining town that flourished in the 1860s.

Alfalfa hay may be winter gold to deer and elk at Auburn and other sites. But many of the animals do not venture down until hours after feeding crews have left. Sometimes a crew will distribute hay at 9 a.m., but elk and deer will not come down until 3 p.m., Miguez said. The ODFW has people wait at each site every month to record the number of animals eating.

The ODFW also has feeding sites at Shaw Mountain, Hunt Mountain, Elk Creek, Salmon Creek, Antelope and near where Anthony Lakes highway crosses the Powder River. The Antelope site, about 14 miles northwest of North Powder, is for deer only. Deer are fed nutritious pellets there.

All feeding sites are off limits to people because the Elkhorn Wildlife Area is closed from Dec. 1 to April 10 to protect deer and elk from being harassed by people.

People visiting the Anthony Creek site on weekends are restricted to the T&T wagon.

The Elkhorn Wildlife Management Area extends from the Ladd Canyon area to 10 miles south of Baker City. The area includes about 10,000 acres but does not run continuously.

On this acreage, the deer and elk get their winter gold. And at least now, the problem cougar is not giving the deer and elk indigestion.

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