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Discussion on Elk Management

Last Modified: 03/08/14
First Published: 03/03/14
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Comments: 1 Views: 696

Discussion Facilitated by Ricardo Small

Below is a link to a proposal to hunting elk on the Finley National Wildlife Refuge:

I hope you will comment in opposition to this plan. 

You may already know, the purpose of shooting elk on the Finley Refuge is to diminish elk depredation on nearby agriculture crops. IMO, let the hunters hunt off the Refuge, if they must.  That apparently is not palatable to owners of the agricultural lands ... to let hunters on their properties.  I also think an alternative to hunting elk on the Refuge is hazing elk off the nearby agricultural lands with various devices, such as fencing, noise makers as they now do with goose cannons, dogs and so on.

Please write in opposition to this noxious Fish & Wildlife idea. It is one of the reasons I quit editing Wild Goose Tales for the Friends of the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex and resigned from that group's board of directors.

Elk hunting on Finley is a very,very bad idea.


I read the EA and the plan to hunt elk. Here is a letter I sent to the Refuge opposing the hunt;



This letter is comment on the Elk Management Plan Draft EA for Finley NWR.

I oppose the plan to reduce the elk population at Finley NWR because the arguments supporting this plan are weak, if not meaningless.

1. The only valid excuse for reducing herd size is if the animals are causing harm to the habitat in the Refuge. Nothing in the EA suggests that the current population is damaging to the habitat in the Refuge. My own observations while visiting the refuge do not lead to the conclusion that the elk herd is causing any significant damage.

2. The documents state that the herd has been about 160 elk for several years, so it is not growing.Therefore, there is no rational reason for reducing the size of the herd on the Refuge.

3. The EA states that over the years, as human population increases in the Willamette Valley the elk population is expected to decline. Therefore, hunting is not necessary to reduce herd size.

4. One excuse for the elk hunt is that elk are moving from the Refuge onto neighboring lands and damaging crops and fences. However, you acknowledge that hunting will likely drive elk out of the refuge and onto neighboring land. So hunting on the Refuge will increase the problem on neighboring lands, not reduce it.

5. If elk from the refuge are causing problems on neighboring lands, let the landowners hunt elk on their property. One statement in the EA says elk are causing problems on neighboring duck hunting club property. Well, let them hold elk hunts at their hunting clubs. They should sell permits to enter their lands and hunt for elk, or require club membership. Hunting outside the Refuge will drive the elk back onto the Refuge.

6. Most of the Refuge is closed to the public from November through April, so the public has only seven months of the year to enjoy all of the area. You are proposing to allow hunting for three months (August through October). The thought that there are people out there shooting at anything that moves will prevent many people from coming to the Refuge who currently enjoy hiking and nature watching there. Therefore, allowing the elk hunt will reduce the number of people who normally enjoy the refuge. For the benefit of a few hunters you will drive away far more people. That is bad policy, bad publicity, and will sour attitudes toward management of the refuges.

7. One excuse for the hunt is to kill off females and young bucks to "improve" the buck to cow ratio in the herd. If there is a temporary excess of bucks in the herd, and you have given no reason to think there is, natural processes will lead to an optimum population. A hunt is not necessary.

8. The most ridiculous excuse for allowing the hunt is to provide "high quality elk viewing" by killing off young bucks and therefore allowing older bucks to grow larger. This is complete nonsense! The highest quality elk viewing will come from allowing nature to create a natural herd population, not some Disneyland-like manipulated population to create trophy bucks!

Furthermore, Table 1 shows that over the past few years the size of bucks in the herd has been increasing naturally. Obviously a hunt is not necessary for increasing buck size. Leave them alone! Allow nature to produce dominant bucks. Then you really will have "high quality" elk to view!


You have no rational arguments in the EA or Elk Management Plan that support a hunt in Finley NWR. It all looks like an excuse to give people who like to hunt something to kill. For this reason I oppose allowing elk hunting on the Refuge.


Phillip Hays PhD
541-754-1911 ext 204



On this I will strongly disagree.

When I arrived in the Willamette Valley in the mid 1980's, regulated hunting was allowed on the federal refuges (Finley, Ankeny, and Baskett Slough), as it is allowed on many of Refuges in the federal system.  In fact, the only places Canada Geese could be hunted west of I-5 in those years was on those three refuges.  Around 1990 Palmer Sekora, the Willamette Refuges manager, arbitrarily prohibited hunting on the refuges because he didn't like the bother of managing the hunts and was personally opposed to hunting.  USFWS allowed small "donuts" of adjacent farm land to be opened to hunting around the three refuges to help control the goose damage to the grass seed crops.  The rest of the valley west of I-5  was closed to goose hunting.  The refuges provided protected "bedrooms" for the geese during the day.  The farmers unwillingly provided the "kitchen" for the geese to feed at night.  The Refuges were created, in part, to provide feeding areas for the geese, but they were unable to provide enough food to keep the geese on the refuges throughout their winter residency.  The refuges are now providing those same bedrooms to elk.

Public use of USFWS refuge land is allowed by a fairly simple system of shared use by the various user groups.  The various uses such as hiking, picnicking, wildlife viewing, hunting, dog training, wildlife protection, kite flying, etc., are listed and accommodation is made to reduce conflicts between groups to the greatest possible extent.  This is the reasoning for regulated public access areas, vehicle use, and seasonal restrictions on most of the Refuges.  It is therefore an inclusionary system.  Palmer Sekora subverted this system (his management standards and guidelines) by changing it into a prioritized list.  He declared that any activity that interfered in any way with any other activity higher on his priority list would not be allowed.  Hunting interfered with birding, so it was out.  This turned his management direction into and exclusionary process, the exact opposite of the federal guidelines.  This was presented by Mr. Sekora to ODFW at a meeting I attended.  When I asked about the apparent conflict between written policy and his working policy, no answer was given and the subject was changed.

This same working philosophy was in place when elk moved onto the Finley Refuge in the 1990's, although Palmer had retired by then.  Elk have been making inroads into the Willamette valley for years.  The valley provides excellent perennial habitat for elk, deer, and other species.  ODFW recognized this in the adoption of their Elk Management Plan and Black-Tailed Deer Management Plan after an enormous amount of staff effort and public input.  However, ODFW also recognized there had to be a place for people in Oregon, so they designated the Willamette Wildlife Management Unit as a unit with no deer or elk population objectives because of the extensive history of wildlife/human conflicts.  There will always be deer and elk in the Willamette Unit, but ODFW will not promote them and we are legally required to assist landowners to solve damage where possible.

When the Finley elk herd started causing damage to adjacent lands, ODFW met with the Refuge staff to see if a solution could be found.  Knowing that crop damage could not be completely eliminated, our objective was to reduce the damage and economic loss to the farmer to a level they could tolerate.  We were told there would be no hunting on the Refuge, period.  We were told the Refuge would do nothing (lethal or non lethal) to help their neighbors, period.  Many meetings since then ended the same way.  Since then, every conceivable strategy has been tried by ODFW to give relief to the adjacent landowners.  Hazing (shell crackers, firecrackers and fuse rope, propane cannons, scarecrows), fencing (both privately funded and ODFW funded), repellants, controlled hunts, emergency hunts, general season hunts, and kill permits were all used to no significant effect.  All of the non lethal strategies confirmed our hard won knowledge that animals adapt to, and then ignore, any new influence that is not associated with a serious threat.  The hunting was not effective, because the herd just changed their timing of movement in and out of the refuge so they were not in the hunt boundary during daylight hours.  The kill permits, that allowed the landowner to kill a few elk at night (and donate the meat to charity) was not successful because the elk were hidden in nearly mature corn fields.  As long as the herd had the refuge as safe haven 20 feet from the crops, there could be no solution.

The Refuges provide essential wildlife habitat in a complex mosaic of land use in the Willamette Valley.  While they must be true to the reasons they were established, I feel it is disingenuous to view them in a vacuum and ignore their impacts on their neighbors.  While some conflicts cannot be solved, reducing the elk herd and changing their behavior will go a long way towards making the refuge a responsible neighbor while aligning its working policies with their original management guidelines.  Hunting was and should be allowed on the refuge.  Adjacent land use does not allow for normal expansion, creating abnormal herd size and behavior in a limited range.  Consider the Yellowstone elk herd as an example of this.  Limited hunting pressure has proven to be effective in breaking up the larger herds into smaller groups.  Those smaller groups spend less time in any one location.  Those two effects reduce habitat damage or property damage while maintaining some elk presence.


I have no knowledge of the changes in federal or state policy since I retired, but I do not believe the Refuges are proposing these changes for the benefit of their neighbors.  If they are willing to expose themselves to public reaction by proposing a different course, I could believe it is because they see problems on their own land.  Because I have not seen their problems does not mean they are wrong.

 A quote that a friend of mine likes seems applicable:  "Out beyond the idea of right doing and wrong doing, there is a field.  I will meet you there"  -  Rumi

Ricardo Small

Good morning, Will.

I've re-read your email a couple of times since my first private response to you. I have some very strong feelings that I must voice about the proposed elk hunt on Finley.

Since European settlement of North America, wildlife has taken a much lower priority than agricultural uses, including logging, mining, farming and grazing. The dominant politic of miners, loggers, cattlemen, irrigation districts, granges, sheepherders and so on grates me and has for decades, because those interests are always in direct conflict with and are detrimental to wildlife. 

It is time for wildlife, including the elk herd on Finley, to have priority from government. The reason state agencies are required to mitigate wildlife depredation is due to the history of lobbying by agricultural interests. I advocate for wildlife and its habitat, not some farmer's crops or cows (range maggots). If wolves and cougars eat cows, sheep and horses, that's just too bad. Government should not be on the hook financially to remedy those losses, which are a cost of doing business. I take a stringent position on this issue, because the farmers, cattlemen and sheepherders do so for their interests. My interests are wild animals, not domestics. 

The progression of agricultural destruction across the United States denuded old growth forests in the East and continues to diminish those forests wherever they are located, now sadly in the Northwest. Farmers cleared off way too much. The Bureau of Reclamation destroyed large parts of the United States at the push of irrigated agriculture. BuRec Director Floyd Dominy's grave should be at the bottom of a urinal.  Cattlemen and sheepherders overgrazed way too much. Representative Wayne Aspinall's grave should be with Dominy's, as Senator Carl Hayden's should, too.

Specific to Finley, Doug Spencer, a devout hunter and recently retired station chief of the Willamette Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex, told me that the impetus for hunting elk on Finley was due to crop depredation on nearby farmland fed through the ODFW. There is nothing in the USFWS Comprehensive Plan, which I read cover to cover, or so far in the proposed elk hunt document, which I am still reading, that even hints at elk overusing habitat on Finley. The new USFWS station chief, Damion Miller, is an avid elk hunter, therefore the continuation of this hunt approval. Lower echelons within the USFWS privately told me the hunt is a "bull shit" response to ODFW's continued demands for one, which stem from the complaints ODFW fields from neighboring agricultural interests. I don't know how they feel about Miller, but some felt Spencer was not that great of a station chief.  Spencer is the president of the Friends of the WVNWRC, a muzzled group that includes many Board members opposed to the elk hunt. I hope they speak out individually in opposition.

As you know, things change with personnel changes, and I suspect the  elk hunt will be approved with minimal public input allowed. In other words, no EIS is likely to be forthcoming so as to avoid full review by the public. I'm pretty sure from some limited visitor contact at Finley, when I was a volunteer there, a majority of the public is opposed to the idea of killing elk on Finley. The thought of an elk hunt on Finley makes me sick to my stomach. I don't really care what shared uses are on the books. My position is exactly what Palmer Sekora's was, and I wish he was back in charge.

It is best for private interests, in this case the neighboring farmers, to take care of their own stuff at their own expense and not continue to push off that responsibility on government agencies and taxpayers at large. Agriculture is one of the most molly coddled, politically favored economic groups in the history of the United States, and I hope that during the coming decades that stops.

No elk hunt on Finley, Will.  Let the farmers and hunters hunt off the Refuge.

Ricardo Small

Sat Mar 08, 2014 9:08 am
Name: D.J. Corbett Comment: With no natural predators in the Refuge it seems to me it is the right course of action. Without thinning the herds more landowners will experience the incursion of the Elk and more severe damage to their land.

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