Hikers, runners and mountain bikers paid attention to increased signage and messaging urging them to avoid a mid-alpine spot critical for elk calving and migration, according to the Deschutes National Forest.
Every year until August 15, the Middle Flagline Trail – accessible from the Dutchman Sno-Park – is closed so elk calving can happen in the area.
The August 15th date is typically circled on the calendars of mountain bikers and other recreators looking to get away from the crowds and experience one of the region’s best trails.
“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,” said Jean Nelson-Dean, spokeswoman with the DNF.
In 2018 officials monitored the trailhead during a 10-day periods and found 111 mountain bikers and 6 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 in 2019. Other partners were enlisted to help get the messaging out to people who recreate in the area.
The efforts worked.
“With the increased educational messaging about the closure, only 8 mountain bikers and no runners or hikers ignored the closure during the same ten-day period of monitoring in 2019. The change between the two years demonstrates a 93% reduction in the number of people disturbing the calving elk,” Nelson-Dean said.
According to the Forest Service, 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, 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.
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.