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Cautions, Advice for Watching Elk on Oregon Coast

Published 08/02/22 at 5:45 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Cautions, Advice for Watching Elk on Oregon Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – Few things create the wonder and surprise of spotting a bunch of elk on the Oregon coast – rather closeup. The stately Roosevelt elk are common to the Oregon coast and Coast Range, especially up north near Cannon Beach, Seaside and Gearhart. There are plenty of them farther south, and the south coast even has the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area near Reedsport. (Above: elk giving the camera a glare at Ecola State Park. All photos Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

They love lounging on the slopes above Highway 101 in Clatsop County, and it's not too uncommon to see them sauntering through neighborhood streets or on the tufted beaches of Gearhart and Seaside. In fact, they're known for stopping traffic along Highway 101 just by loafing off to the side of the road in great numbers.

It's when they get closer to human foot traffic pathways that the trouble starts – and it's usually unwise humans that pick the fight. There are some dangers built in, along with the opportunities to spot some incredible natural beauty. A few years ago, news media kept having to report on mishaps caused by humans getting too close. The elk would charge people and their pets, with luckily no one getting seriously hurt.

Although that trend has lessened in frequency, thank goodness, visitors to the Oregon coast need a reminder now and then.

A few years back, Oregon Coast Beach Connection talked to Herman Biederbeck with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), who is a wildlife biologist focusing on deer and elk. He dispensed some invaluable advice on spotting them and keeping safe when they wander closer to civilization.

First: how to spot them? Biederbeck said that's entirely unpredictable, but a majority of them do wander Clatsop County compared to other regions of the Oregon coast, with most around Gearhart. Cannon Beach and Warrneton have some decent populations too.

Designated refuges for them will be the most reliable.

“The best and most reliable elk viewing is at our Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area, located in central Clatsop County, north of Elsie,” he said.

Summer, though packed with people, is not the best time to catch sight of elk. Biederbeck said winter brings them out more.

“Some herds only hang out in the valleys and lowlands in the winter months, and spend the summers primarily in the forest, though,” Biederbeck said.

They are foragers, munching on seeds quite a bit as well as grass. Interestingly, this brings them into closer contact with humans because they find more such foods in grassy areas maintained by people, like lawns or golf courses.

Elk don't hang around in one place very long: they have a kind of conservationist slant built in. Elk herds feast for awhile in one spot and then go off to find another area they'd been to before that's been replenished. They move around a lot in this manner.

“If they stayed in one area for a long time, they would soon deplete, and likely decimate, those forage resources,” Biederbeck said.

These masses of elk sometimes spotted on social media wandering Cannon Beach or even Waldport are a risky business to capture on video or in stills. Biederbeck said they easily get aggressive if someone gets too close. Of course that comes down to common sense: don't try and take selfies.

In fact, the photo at top taken by Oregon Coast Beach Connection could've been a bad idea: those two big elk eyeing the camera don't seem pleased. While the photog used a zoom lens there and was a good 80 feet away, it still might have been skirting the edges of disaster.

Do not feed them: that should go without saying, but humans insist on feeding all sorts of wildlife when they shouldn't – like gulls, ducks, etc.

“In June-July the cow elk often have young calves at heel, and they’re very protective,” Biederbeck said. “In September-October the bull elk are in the breeding season or ‘rut’ and they can become very intolerant of people as well.”

This link from ODFW has some good, common sense tips for when you’re around elk: www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/living_with/deer_elk.asp. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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