Oregon's Elk History
Sitting here waiting for the turkey to get done I happened across a Oregon Fish & Wildlife History and found this information about the Elk that grace the State of Oregon:
History of Elk in Oregon
Historic records indicate both subspecies of elk were numerous and widely distributed in Oregon
prior to arrival of non-native settlers. According to Vernon Bailey in his "The Mammals and Life
Zones of Oregon" (1936), Rocky Mountain elk occupied the whole of the Blue Mountain Plateau
in Northeastern Oregon. There are records of elk being plentiful in the Enterprise area in the
Wallowa Mountains, and sightings and remains are reported from the Burns area and the John
Day River. Bailey reported seeing old elk antlers at ranches throughout the Blue Mountains in
1895-96 and was told there were still a few elk in the wildest parts of the Blue Mountains.
Roosevelt elk were apparently abundant in much of Western Oregon in the early 1800s. The
Lewis and Clark expedition heavily depended on elk for survival during the winter of 1805-06 at
the mouth of the Columbia River. Numerous other historical reports indicate elk were plentiful
throughout most of Western Oregon, although less so on the extreme southern coast and in the
Siskiyou and south Cascade mountains.
Settlers hunted elk as a primary source of meat and harvest was unregulated. During the latter
half of the 19th century ‘market hunting’ and human encroachment on elk range took a heavy toll
on Oregon’s elk populations. Market hunters killed thousands of elk for meat, hides and antlers.
These products were sold in population centers in Oregon and shipped throughout the nation.
Reports of elk scarcity became common during the late 1880s. Elk populations were reduced to
only a few small herds along the coast, in the Cascades, and Northeast Oregon and reached their
lowest ebb by about 1910. The Oregon Legislature provided protection for elk in 1899 by
making it illegal to sell meat from wild animals and by closing elk season from 1909 through
Concern for the future of elk continued after the season was closed. Early conservation efforts
concentrated on restocking, and 15 elk from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, were released in an
enclosure at Billy Meadows in Wallowa County on March 19, 1912. A second introduction of 15
elk to Billy Meadows from Jackson Hole was made in 1913. Elk from Billy Meadows were
subsequently transplanted to other areas in Oregon. The first transplant occurred in 1917, when
15 elk were moved to Crater Lake National Park.
The scale of transplanting in the early 1900s was limited and alone does not account for the rapid
increases in elk numbers and distribution. Recovery of elk in Oregon and elk expansion into
much of their original range is largely the result of total protection of local remnant populations.
By 1922, elk numbers had increased greatly in Umatilla, Baker, Union, Grant, Wallowa, Clatsop,
and Tillamook counties, but authorities did not consider it possible to re-establish elk as a game
animal at that time. However, by 1924 there were numerous complaints about competition
between elk and domestic livestock. Elk hunting was re-established in Eastern Oregon in 1933
and in Western Oregon in 1938. Both subspecies of elk continue to increase in numbers and
expand their range in several areas. However, elk numbers have stabilized in some areas after the
adoption of MOs in 1994 (Fig. 1) and have declined in some Northeast Oregon WMUs. Elk
continue to expand their range and numbers in the Siskiyou, Coast, Cascade, and Ochoco
mountains and in the desert area of Southeastern and South-central Oregon.