Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

Desert Elk

Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. p. 53.

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Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) are being seen in the Oregon Desert of late. They seem to he either expanding (or reexpanding) their range. Historically, elk were a range and plains species, being found even in the mountains of the desert Southwest. In Oregon, excessive hunting caused near-extirpation around the turn of the twentieth century From last refuges in the Cascades, Blue, and Wallowa Mountains and the Oregon Coast Range, elk have come back to huntable populations. Their move into the desert is surprising in that rising elk numbers are apparently not directly attributable to improved habitat.

Elk have been spotted in the Owyhee country, in the Stinkingwater Mountains, on Steens Mountain, in the Fort Rock Valley and Jordan Valley area, and traipsing across Hart Mountain. There are an estimated two thousand to three thousand elk in the Oregon Desert. A large population seems stable on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the Washington desert (though they are rumored to glow at night).

Elk in the desert are causing biologists to rethink the habitat requirements of the species. Perhaps they are more adaptable than originally thought. More research is necessary.