October 21, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

First the good news.

Elk will be widespread when the first Rocky Mountain bull elk season starts this week in Northeast Oregon.

Next the bad news.

Elk will be widespread.

Dry conditions mean that elk will not be concentrated when hunting season opens Wednesday. A lack of rain has prevented a fall "green up'' of vegetation from

taking place, explained

La Grande Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Leonard Erickson. This means that there are no areas where there is an abundance of vegetation, thus elk will not be congregating in particular places.

"We have not had enough green up to affect distribution yet,'' Erickson said.

"There is a good chance that hunters will see elk wherever they go, but the number of elk in those areas will be down.''

Ultimately this will make things tougher for hunters, Erickson said. The relatively warm and dry conditions are expected to continue at least until the weekend.

"It will be a shirt-sleeve season,'' Erickson said.

The first Rocky Mountain bull elk season runs through Sunday. The second season is Nov. 2-10.

In Union County prospects in the Starkey Unit are down slightly from a year ago. There are seven bulls per 100 cows, down from nine bulls last year. The unit has 22 calves per 100 cows, up one calf from a year ago. This is the third straight year that the calf-to-adult ratio has been between 20 and 22. This trend is disturbing since ideally biologists would like to have annual calf ratios of at least 30 per 100 cows.

The Starkey Unit has a total of 4,700 wintering elk; this is 88 percent of the ODFW's management objective.

In the Catherine Creek Unit, the calf survival rate is significantly better. There are 29 calves per 100 cows. The population is up slightly with a total of 600 wintering elk.

Hunters can expect to see a few more bulls in the Catherine Creek Unit this fall.

Hunters in Union County should expect to see a good number of branch-antlered bulls, Erickson said.

Prepare for yellow jackets

They should also expect to see a fair number of yellow jackets. Hunters who are allergic to yellow jackets should bring the proper emergency kits.

In Wallowa County the overall elk hunting outlook is fair, according to ODFW biologist Pat Matthews. The county has had a better fall green up than Union County but it has not been significant enough to impact the distribution of elk.

The top areas for those seeking branch-antlered bulls are the Sled Springs and Imnaha units.

Hunters should expect to see few yearlings this season in Wallowa County because the calf ratio is again about 20 per 100 cows. This is the third year in a row that calf ratios have been in the low 20s.

The number of calves per 100 cows was once between 30 and 35 in the county.