Monday, February 23, 2015

Feeding Elk

Jewell Meadows Wildlife Refuge feeds wild Roosevelt Elk every winter, and they give visitors an opportunity to help toss alfalfa from the wagon and see these magnificent animals up close. Tours are free with a $7 parking permit. We went two years ago and made it a high priority to try to get  spots on one of the tours.  Elk feeding happens every day, with tours December through February.  They generally stop feeding some time in March as the elk prefer new sprouts to the alfalfa and stop coming to eat. The elk would have plenty to eat without all this work on their part, but there are several objectives.  Feeding the elk keeps them on the refuge, which keeps them from areas where hunting is legal and winter crops could be destroyed.  Also it provides a perfect opportunity to educate the public about these amazing animals and the work done by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to help preserve them.  When the herd reaches a maximum threshold, elk are often taken to other preserves throughout the west where Roosevelt elk populations are in decline, increasing their numbers and diversifying the gene pool at the same time.   Herds are lead by a doe, and are split into two groups- does with juveniles in one group, and their adult bucks in another.  They keep their distance from each other at all times except for mating season.  We fed the does first, then drove a short distance to feed the bucks. 

In the herd of does are some juvenile bucks, just beginning to grow their antlers.
A blonde doe.  She's got a recessive gene, and is not an albino. Her offspring have all had regular coloring.
The bucks approach.
Antlers are shed in the spring.  ODFW collects a few for educational purposes but it is illegal
for the public to enter the refuge to collect more.
Antlers are bone and are naturally white, but bucks rub them against trees to remove the velvet.  This buck
rubbed his against an alder tree and they were very red.


Nicki Mann said...

That is cool! I think there used to be elk here in Chicago a long time ago, but not any more... EXCEPT in the town of Elk Grove Village. The forest preserve keeps some elk there. They have a big area, but it is fenced in, so it is not quite the same as what you have in Oregon!

Laura Lucanidae said...

The Roosevelt elk are fairly common here but stay in the woods most of the time. When they feed them at Jewell Meadows, they tempt them out of the woods. It's not easy to get a spot on the feeding wagon, but photographers line up by the road to see them at feeding time, no reservations required.