One of the most dramatic and unique experiences available to the public in the Pacific Northwest is viewing hundreds of Roosevelt elk at Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area.
|Bryan Swearingen, manager of Jewell Wildlife Area (right), goes over the key points of elk management with students from Sandy High School during a recent feeding tour.
|A bull elk looks over his herd at the Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area, where the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife takes care of approximately 300 Roosevelt elk. Winter is the best time to see these majestic animals from the four viewing areas along Highway 202, located 27 miles southeast of Astoria on Highway 202.
- Photo by Rick Swart-
Jewell Meadows is one of 12 wildlife areas managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Every year, an estimated 80,000 people visit the 2,940-acre wildlife area hoping to see these magnificent animals, which inhabit the coastal forests and Cascade Mountains of Oregon.
Many of the people who visit Jewell Meadows are students, who come to the wildlife area not only to see and take pictures of the elk but also to learn about the behavior, biology and management of these and other creatures that inhabit coastal rain forests. The wildlife area becomes a living classroom where students ranging from preschool through college have the opportunity to see elk up close, possibly for the first time.
Byron Ball’s parks and wildlife class from Sandy High School was the first student group to tour the wildlife area this season. Ball works closely with ODFW and has been taking his students to Jewell Meadows for the past six or seven years. He and his students have also toured ODFW’s Sauvie Island Wildlife Area, which specializes in waterfowl management, and in November worked with the North Willamette Watershed District on a stream enrichment program in the Sandy River. Ball said these experiences add a dimension to his class that would be impossible to duplicate in a classroom. Through experiences like these, Ball’s parks and wildlife class has inspired some students to pursue college degrees in fish and wildlife biology.
“You get to see elk from a different perspective than hunting,” said Coy Copher, a junior, who plans on pursuing a degree in wildlife biology after graduating from high school. ODFW is supportive of such programs, in part, because it hopes some will come back to work for the agency in the future.
In an effort to give students the best educational experience possible, the staff at Jewell Meadows conducts free public “feeding tours” of the wildlife area from December through February. People who go on these tours receive an overview of the wildlife area from manager Bryan Swearingen or another member of the staff. Then they head to the meadows on board a hay wagon behind a tractor and push flakes of alfalfa into the meadows where it is quickly consumed by the scores of elk that inhabit the wildlife area during the winter months.
The daily elk feeding tours have become so popular that a few years ago ODFW started allocating seats on the hay wagon by reservation. ODFW now accepts reservations on a first-come-first-served basis for up to 15 people a day, six days a week for the three months. Nowadays those seats now fill up extremely fast. For example, this year the wildlife area opened its call-in reservation line at 8 a.m. on Dec. 1 and all of the seats for the feeding season were spoken for by noon that same day.
While the feeding tours are very popular, they are not the only way to see elk at Jewell Meadows. ODFW has constructed four well-designed viewing areas with ample parking space, picnic tables and other amenities easily accessible from Highway 202.
For more information, contact the wildlife area at 503-755-2264 or visit ODFW’s website.