Compared to years past, larger numbers of hikers, bikers and runners are steering clear of an elk calving area in the Deschutes National Forest, thanks to efforts by several environmental groups to increase the number of signs that warn of the area’s importance to wildlife.

The wildlife closure located on Middle Flagline Trail had been routinely ignored by trail users, according to a release issued by the U.S. Forest Service and its partners in the project. This year the number of trail users who ignored the warnings dropped by 93%.

Calving grounds are used by elk for birthing and raising their young. Keeping those areas closed to humans allows female elk to better recover from harsh winter conditions, migrations and giving birth. As well as being enjoyed by wildlife spotters, elk are a popular animal for hunts in Central Oregon.

The area around the Middle Flagline Trail contains an abundant supply of grasses, bushes and plants favored by elk, as well as water from the Bridge Creek watershed and scattered meadows. The area is also relatively secluded due to the lack of roads, offering quiet hiding cover and shade for elk.

During a 10-day monitoring period a year ago, researchers using trail cameras counted 111 mountain bikers and six runners who ignored the closure, which is put in place annually until Aug. 15.

Increased signs, patrols and education were implemented this year to reduce the number of trail users. Results during a similar 10-day period this year showed just eight mountain bikers and zero runners or hikers on the trail. The change between the two years represents a 93% decline.

“Better signage and a barricade worked much better — along with the use of trail cameras,” said Karl Findling, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, one of the groups involved with the project.

Other groups involved in the project include Bend Trails, Central Oregon Trail Alliance, Deschutes Trails Coalition, Mt. Bachelor, Visit Bend and the Forest Service.

“When the cycling community and other public land users hear about a trail camera in use, it gets folk’s attention — since it’s unknown where they are located,” Findling added.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, mkohn@bendbulletin.com

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