OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Shift in deer, elk populations prompts conference

01/14/2005

CORVALLIS - A professional conference on Wednesday, Jan. 19, at Oregon State University will explore a significant change that has taken place in deer and elk populations in western Oregon - and the implications this has for forest and wildlife management decisions.

The key issue, organizers say, is that elk populations in this region of Oregon have exploded in recent years at the same time that blacktail deer numbers have crashed, in part due to an epidemic of hair loss syndrome. Experts attending the conference will examine how this dramatic shift in large wildlife numbers might be related to changing forest management practices and also how it might have an impact on future forest operations.

The event is titled "Relationships Between Forestry, Deer and Elk in Western Oregon."

"These are important issues from both a wildlife and forest management perspective," said Rick Fletcher, a professor of forestry Extension at OSU. "We're bringing in leading experts from all over the region to help biologists and forestry professionals understand what is going on, what is causing these changes and what may be some of the options for dealing with them."

Some people point to recent changes in forest management practices on both public and private lands that may be having an impact on these population trends in deer and elk, said Fletcher. As timber harvesting has declined on U.S. Forest Service and other public lands in western Oregon over the past 20 years, deer and elk have moved onto adjacent private lands that are being intensively managed for younger forests.

"Elk in western Oregon tend to travel more in large herds than deer do, and they can step on small trees, they even pull newly planted trees out of the ground," Fletcher said. "In general elk are far more destructive than deer when it comes to forestry plantings. This has led to major concerns by private landowners about the destruction of young forests on lands they are trying to manage."

Meanwhile, an invasive form of deer lice that first appeared several years ago in the Puget Sound area has moved into Oregon, causing catastrophic mortality of up to 50 percent in deer populations. Called deer hair loss syndrome, the exotic lice cause deer to literally pull their hair out, get hypothermia and often die. They are also being displaced from some lands by elk herds.

"Right now, hair loss syndrome is mostly just a problem for the blacktail deer on the west side, but recent studies have shown it can also affect mule deer that are more common in eastern Oregon, so we're very concerned about what may happen to those herds in the future," Fletcher said. "This is a pretty serious issue and a huge change in the historical makeup of our large wildlife."

The conference will explore such topics as:

  • Scientific knowledge about deer and elk in western Oregon;
  • "Forest landscape trends over time, including age class, vegetation and ownership trends;
  • "Interactions between deer and elk and forest management;
  • "Forage species by time of year and age of stand, under different management objectives;
  • "Browse damage and wildlife control measures;
  • "Options for partnerships and management actions.

The event is sponsored by OSU, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Forest Industries Council and Oregon Department of Forestry. It will be at the CH2M-Hill Alumni Center on the OSU campus, beginning at 8 a.m. The conference is designed for professionals but the public may attend, and there is a $30 registration fee. Call 541-737-2329 for more information.

A lunch presentation on "Forests, Deer and Elk: Where Are We Headed?" will be presented by Marla Rae, chair of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. Many other presentations will be made by university researchers, agency management experts and representatives of private industry, and a panel discussion with questions from the audience will be held in the afternoon.

"We have a forest products industry that's trying to survive economically and provide for the needs of public wildlife on their lands," Fletcher said. "At the same time, we have some wildlife with serious disease issues that need to be considered.

"The goal of this meeting is not to find fault," he said. "There are likely no quick and easy solutions to this situation. But we can and definitely need to find some answers, and a future that works for all involved."