Booming elk population may prompt hunt

LONGVIEW — New and smelly hazards are appearing at the Longview Country Club, a byproduct of the growing elk population in this southwest Washington town.

Besides their calling cards, elk frequently tear up the greens, course superintendent Ben Davis says.

“We were devastated last year,” Davis said. “It was probably our worst year” for elk damage.

Davis said he often sees around 20 elk near his home and then a few days later on the golf course.

Elk have become so plentiful around town, especially on hillsides, that the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering allowing hunting, although that would require a change in municipal ordinances over the likely opposition of residents who enjoy the animals.

“Some people really like having them and some people find them to be a nuisance,” state biologist Annemarie Prince said.

Elk once appeared only in winter, but “now they’re around 365 days a year” said state Rep. Dean Takko, a hunter who lives just outside town.

“Personally, I think it’s cool to see an elk eating apples in my back yard,” Takko said, “but some people are tired of elk eating their high-priced shrubbery and messing up landscaping.”

Mayor Kurt Anagnostou said he frequently gets elk in his back yard.

“We love them,” he said. “They’re beautiful animals.

“I put up with it because I see it as a benefit, even if they eat the apples off my tree.”

Alan and Helen Godfrey are less enamored of the more than 100 elk they have counted on their property north of Kelso and the consequent loss of apples and vegetables they raise for themselves and to sell at a farmers market.

The elk have nearly leveled their corn, and their apple trees are barren as high as the elk can reach.

“They’re not afraid” of people, Helen Godfrey said. “As long as you don’t look like you’re aiming at them, you can get pretty close.”

Prince said elk don’t usually mix with people and traffic but can become acclimated to life in town.

In the Stella game management unit, which includes Longview, state regulations limit hunters to revolvers, muzzleloading rifles and shotguns firing slugs or buckshot, and they can take only elk with at least three antler points. Prince said one suggestion has been to allow the hunting of elk without antlers.

An ordinance adopted in 1933 bars all hunting in town, and a more recent measure prohibits the discharge of firearms “where there is a reasonable likelihood that humans, domestic animals or property will be jeopardized.”

Takko said he thinks hunting would have to be allowed in town to thin the herd.

With plenty of fruit trees and shrubs, “they’ve got life made,” he said. “They only thing that will push them out is a hunting season.”

Anagnostou said he’d support hunting if the herd got larger or was ailing from hoof rot, adding that about half the elk he sees in his yard appear to be limping.

Reports of limping elk have been increasing in and around Longview and Chehalis, about 35 miles to the north, said Sandra A. Jonker, the state’s regional wildlife manager.

There are more than 40 types of hoof rot, some caused by bacteria and others by nutritional deficiencies, and without research it’s impossible to know whether meat from affected elk is safe to eat.

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