Notes from the Field: Elk at the Metolius Preserve

Mar 14, 2011
Amanda Egertson, the Land Trust's stewardship director, regularly spends her days outdoors at the Land Trust's Community Preserves. What does she see?


Amanda Egertson, the Land Trust's stewardship director, regularly spends her days outdoors at the Land Trust's Community Preserves. With so much time spent outside, you would think that her wildlife encounters might become commonplace and even seem unremarkable.

However, wildlife, especially elk, are often illusive. Since 2004 when she began working for the Land Trust, Amanda has only seen signs (tracks and scat) of elk, the largest mammal found at the Metolius Preserve.

Finally, this past fall she saw her first quick glimpse of the actual animal. But this winter, she really hit the jackpot! Last month Amanda got to see 30-40 elk milling about in a snow storm. With 2-3 feet of snow on the ground, she also got to see deep trenches in the snow where the elk had walked, single file to conserve energy.  A week later, she saw another twenty elk crossing the 1216 road.

Elk Trail in the snow.  Photo: Darin Stringer.
Elk Trail in the Snow
Elk Trail in the snow. Photo: Darin Stringer.

In North America, elk are the second largest member of the deer family. Elk are found in forests and meadows, and will move to lower elevations, out of deep snow, in the winter. During winter months, they browse the tips of twigs from a variety of woody vegetation.

Two main subspecies of elk exist in Oregon. Roosevelt elk are usually found west of the Cascade crest and Rocky Mountain elk inhabit areas east of the Cascades. Interestingly, the Metolius Preserve's elk are likely Cascade Elk, a hybrid of the Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain elk. While the only way to truly determine the species is through genetic testing, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife categorize all elk found between the I-5 corridor and the Ochoco Mountains as these Cascade Elk.