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Op Ed to The Bulletin
Hunters who use ATVs are hurting Oregon's elk population
By W.E. Nisbet Bulletin guest columnist
In response to two recent "In My View" submissions to The Bulletin by Dennis Cook and Steve Mathers regarding dwindling elk populations in Oregon, neither mentioned the impact that four-wheel drive all-terrain vehicles have on elk. As an avid elk hunter of 35 years, I can assure you that these "hunters" could end elk hunting altogether by cheating these magnificent animals in at least two ways: one, a hunter can cover 20 or more times the area with an ATV versus walking; and two, can retrieve the meat in minutes instead of all day or even days, which can result in several elk killed by a party of hunters because more time can be spent hunting.
I witnessed this so many times that I called the supervisor of the Starkey Experiment Station five years ago and told him of this. His action the following year was to close the roads, which were burmed off and already closed to two and four-wheel-drive pick-up trucks, and place signs with hefty fines for entering with any motor vehicles. The Forest Service along with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife figured this out about 15 years ago by closing old logging roads to prevent fires from occurring. They bulldozed huge holes in the roads followed by large piles of dirt and rock to prevent pick-up trucks from entering. They found that these areas were not only more protected from man-made fires, but deer and elk populations began to increase. There were studies by these agencies, including the Starkey Experiment Area, that showed decreased human presence had less stress on mating large game animals, which produced more cows bred per bull elk and more does per buck deer, which resulted in larger populations. They found that a five-point bull elk will impregnate 40 cows per breeding season on average, better than smaller or larger bulls. The breeding season or rut is during bow (archery) season. Bow season is a very crucial time, and stress from roaring ATVs can impact an elk herd from naturally increasing its population. I would like to see a study done on the impact of stress on elk during the rut versus an area without any ATVs allowed. I'm sure it would show that there would be far more barren cows (not pregnant) present where ATVs are allowed to scare and stress the elk from doing what they would normally be doing had there not been ATVs in their domain.
It is almost impossible to walk down a closed road and not see ATV tire tracks going over or around the berm at the beginning of the road. If the berm is too steep for an ATV, you can bet a narrow ATV trail cut with a chainsaw through the trees around the berm will be present.
Road closures is the main answer and hunting from a motor vehicle, ATV with gun scabbard and all, should be banned. There is nothing more aggravating than quietly hiking up a mountain and just before you reach the top three or four "quad runners" come blasting by you, ending any chance of sneaking up on a possible bull elk, which is what ''true'' hunting is. Main roads leaving these areas should have roadblocks with Oregon State Police citing those with elk carcasses and ATV s on their rigs along with checking and citing all hunting party members involved.
Furthermore, for those of you "ATV hunters" that this letter might upset, you need to understand that you will eventually end any general elk season, and only a few tags will be available which could result in only being able to hunt about every 10 years or so. By closing roads, the elk will have more places to hide, which will result in more animals on public and private land, and maybe, just maybe, elk populations will return to numbers like that in 1970, when I went on my first elk hunt with my father, back when there was no first and second season, back when all who wanted to hunt for the ''big one" could without having to draw a tag.
If the OSP, ODFW and Forest Service, along with the help of true hunters, can stop these illegal poachers from ruining our hunting season, then maybe we can save and preserve these large herds from dwindling away and keep those never saw an elk" vacations from happening. If a person can afford to pay $6,000 for an ATV, he can afford to pay a $6,000 fine for entering a closed road with it. A $300 to $500 fine is not enough. Also, there are those who wouldn't bat an eye at such a low fine to kill a big bull. Increasing the fines should weed out most intruders, but jail time will only cure the repeaters. It's time to act now or we can all kiss elk hunting goodbye in the state of Oregon.
--W.E. Nisbet, of Bend, owns Nisbet's Office Machine in Bend Oregon
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Mountain climbing has inherent dangers that can in part, be mitigated