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Wildlife biologists bag five more Foothill elk

Moving a large trap to the Highway 62 side of Coker Butte helped state wildlife biologists capture five more Roosevelt elk Wednesday from the urban herd that has outgrown its welcome in north Medford.

The successful trapping and relocating of these five elk to the wilds of eastern Curry County means 17 elk from the 80-plus herd have been removed successfully this month, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Changes to the trap configuration and tips from seasoned ODFW elk trappers in northern Oregon have helped speed up plans to cull elk from the herd that's been causing damage and raising human-safety issues along Medford's northern boundary.

"We're pretty happy with our progress we're having now," said Steve Niemela, the ODFW wildlife biologist heading up the trapping effort. "There was a steep learning curve.

"But there's still a lot of elk there, and all the issues we face with them are still there," he said.

With hunting opportunities limited by private lands and dense housing, ODFW biologists are trying to thin the herd, which damages pear crops and fences and creates a traffic hazard when it crosses busy Coker Butte and Foothill roads.

Earlier this month, a dozen elk were captured in the same trap set on two separate occasions on private lands northeast of the intersection of Coker Butte and Foothill roads. But the elk in that area began to suspect that the pear-alfalfa salad bait inside the trap might not be the free lunch it appeared, Niemela said.

"We were getting to the point where I think they were wise to our trap," Niemela said.

So Niemela last week moved the trap to a stretch of private lands where the other half of the Foothill herd has taken up its winter residence.

The elk there quickly fell prey to the red anjou-alfalfa cocktail, allowing Niemela to trip the trap door in the Wednesday morning darkness to corral the elk before they were the wiser.

The animals — two cows, one female yearling and two female calves — were all ear-tagged, and the cow was fitted with a radio-transmitting collar so its whereabouts can be tracked, Niemela said.

The elk were loaded onto a livestock trailer and trucked via Highway 42 through Gold Beach to the Shasta Costa drainage of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest east of Agness, Niemela said.

The area is public land where Niemela hopes the relocated elk will create a herd of their own that can sustain public hunting during regular fall seasons.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.