5-4 SS 250 Dead Elk
Elk die after gorging on winter wheat. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Mark Kirsch, who is based in Pendleton says that winter wheat is a addictive for elk.
This addiction got the best of at least 250 young elk this winter, including many that had migrated from Union County, in the McKay Creek area southwest of Pendleton. The elk, 200 of which were calves, died because they had gorged themselves on winter wheat for months, Kirsch said. “
The winter wheat did the young elk in because their digestive systems cannot break it down and absorb its nutrients. This means some elk actually died of starvation because they were not absorbing nutrients from the winter wheat. “They starved to death on full stomachs,’’ Kirsch said.
Most of the elk that died likely succumbed not to starvation but to Clostridium infections, Kirsch said. Clostridium is a bacteria found in elk. It attacks the bodies of elk when the animals are weakened by poor nutrition and other factors compromising their immune systems. None of the dead elk ODFW biologists found at McKay Creek died from bloating, Kirsch said. Bloating often occurs when elk abruptly switch from dried cured forage in the winter to fresh vegetation like winter wheat.
Many elk succumbed from over-eating winter wheat in the McKay Creek area this year because winter conditions hit Northeast Oregon about a month earlier than normal, Kirsch said. This meant elk coming to the McKay Creek area began eating winter wheat a month earlier than normal. Elk find winter wheat especially tasty from December through February when almost all the forage available is hard and cured. Once elk discover a winter wheat field, they know no better than to gorge on it. “It is like giving a young kid the key to an ice cream shop,’’ Kirsch said.