BEND, Ore. - Every year, until August 15, a closure for calving elk occurs on the Middle Flagline Trail, most commonly accessed via Dutchman Sno-Park west of Bend. Unfortunately, in years past, hikers, runners and bikers have ignored the closure, resulting in disturbance of elk cows and their young calves when they are at their most vulnerable, which reduces calving success.
This year, a partnership to educate hikers, runners, and bikers about the importance of the closure through increased signage and messaging made a significant difference in reducing the disturbance of the elk, organizers of the effort said Tuesday.
During last year's closure, monitoring for a 10-day period showed 111 mountain bikers and six runners or hikers ignored the closure.
Concerned with the impact to elk from the disturbance, Oregon Wild and the Oregon Hunter’s Association began working with the Deschutes National Forest to find solutions. Increased signage, patrols and education were agreed on and implemented this year. Other partners were enlisted to help get the messaging out to people who recreate in the area.
With the increased educational messaging about the closure, only eight mountain bikers and no runners or hikers ignored the closure during the same 10-day period of monitoring this year The change between the two years demonstrates a 93% reduction in the number of people disturbing the calving elk.
The partners in the educational effort include Bend Trails, Central Oregon Trail Alliance, Deschutes Trails Coalition, Mt. Bachelor, Oregon Hunters Association, Oregon Wild, Visit Bend and the Deschutes National Forest.
The partners will continue their efforts to increase the public’s understanding of the importance of the closure and the impact disturbance has on the elk cows and calves to maintain the important elk habitat into the future.
"All the partners want to thank the community for responding positively to the closure and helping to balance the needs of local wildlife with their recreation," Tuesday's news release stated.
Calving grounds are used by elk for birthing and raising young, so keeping these areas closed allows cow elk to recuperate from challenging winter conditions, spring migration and giving birth.
The area around Middle Flagline Trail provides many critical items for the elk, such as an abundant supply of lush forbs, grasses and shrubs, as well as water from the Bridge Creek watershed and scattered meadows.
In addition, the area is more secluded than other areas, due to a lack of roads and provides quiet, hiding cover and shade for the elk.
Increased energy expenditures from running away from people and being forced into lower quality habitat can affect body condition, the elks' survival, and ultimately survival of elk calves. Concentrating elk in smaller areas can cause increased stress, disease transmission, susceptibility to predation and over-use of forage plants.
For more information about the closure and the importance of this elk habitat, contact Brock McCormick, Deschutes National Forest, Bend-Ft. Rock Ranger District wildlife biologist, at 541-383-4713 or email@example.com.