March 29, 2001 11:00 pm
WESTERNERS: Herds of Roosevelt elk make their home on the west side of Oregon and Washington (Olympic National Park photo).
WESTERNERS: Herds of Roosevelt elk make their home on the west side of Oregon and Washington (Olympic National Park photo).

Few people have had more influence on the early management of fish and game in Northeast Oregon than La Grandes Bill Brown.

Brown became the first manager of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlifes northeast region in 1950. Based in La Grande, he served as manager through 1976.

Brown is well known for his work in the region. Less known is his work with Roosevelt elk in Western Oregon.

Brown made history while working with Roosevelt elk in the late 1930s. He was beginning his career with the ODFW, then the Oregon Game Commission.

One of Browns first assignments called for him to conduct the first census of Roosevelt elk in Northwest Oregons Clatsop County. The results were anxiously awaited.

The census was important because many believed that a recent hunting season had decimated the countys Roosevelt elk population. Roosevelt elk hunting had been prohibited until the 1930s in Oregon because of falling numbers.

Brown put fears of the demise of Roosevelt elk in Clatsop County to rest. He discovered that few elk remained around roads but that there were many in the countys numerous roadless areas.

It didnt take long to realize that hunters had not made a dent in the elk population, Brown said.

He explained that Roosevelt elk were not afraid of people because they had not been hunted.

They were not wild, Brown said.

As a result the elk near roads were easy targets for hunters. Few elk near roads could be found.

However, there were plenty left in the timber, Brown said.

After his Clatsop County census, Brown was sent to Southern Oregon where he helped lead a team that conducted a census of Roosevelt elk.

We found out where the elk were, Brown said.

Information from this census was used by the state to establish Roosevelt elk hunting seasons in Southern Oregon. When hunting began, Roosevelt elk were scattered throughout Southern Oregon. Previously they had not traveled far. Roosevelt elk, unlike the Rocky Mountain elk found in Eastern Oregon, prefer not to travel far.

They are not naturally migratory, Brown said.

Later Brown was involved in one of the states first Roosevelt elk trapping and transport programs. The objective was to move Roosevelt elk away from areas where they were damaging property. Large corral-type traps were set up with net. Once the elk entered, the gate closed.

Brown successfully caught many elk with the traps, but said that his first traps were too large. Because of this elk had room to run and sometimes collapsed from exhaustion while running and trying to get out.

This (elk trapping) was all new to us. We were not sure what to do, Brown said.

The elk Brown helped trap were successfully moved to other areas in Western Oregon and the Cascades.

Difficult to hunt

Brown, who grew up in Roseburg and later graduated from Oregon State University, hunted Roosevelt elk while in Western Oregon.

He said that elk hunting in Western Oregon then was challenging because forests were filled with large old growth timber stands.

It was like a jungle, Brown said.

The difficulty of tracking Roosevelt elk in Western Oregon is compounded by the fact that the region has terrain that is often steeper than Eastern Oregons.

Such challenging conditions may be one reason why Roosevelt elk behave differently than Rocky Mountain elk when hunted.

Brown noted that when he was pursuing Rocky Mountain elk, the animals would run for miles if spooked. Roosevelt elk though tend to run up to the nearest ridge and out onto it.

This behavior is so predictable that sometimes Brown would position a hunting partner on a ridge while pursuing an elk. Often the elk would run up to the ridge only to find the hunter waiting for him.

Brown, who has successfully hunted Rocky Mountain elk in Eastern Oregon for years, took his last Roosevelt elk in 1948.

He prefers hunting Rocky Mountain elk in part because it allows him to be in more open spaces.

Today Brown still has a wildlife connection to Western Oregon. He regularly travels to Winston near Roseburg to work as a volunteer at Wildlife Safari. At the game park, animals from throughout the world can be viewed everything from zebras to Roosevelt elk.

Brown helps maintain a nature trail at the park.

Story by Dick Mason

of The Observer