Antler Awareness

The Conservancy’s Justin Jones rounds up some antlers.  Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Matt Miller)

In Oregon, elk populations have grown so large that they are threatening a key forest tree species: the aspen, whose leaves turn a vivid yellow in the fall and create amazing landscape scenes, particularly in the western United States. To raise awareness of the issue and also generate funds for local children, people near The Nature Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie Preserve go out and search for elk antlers that have been shed each spring, then sell the antlers. Matt Miller writes for the TNC blog:

As our vehicles roll to a stop along the muddy track, a postcard-perfect scene stretches before us. Rolling prairie dotted with beautiful wildflowers, with towering snow-capped peaks in the background. But the kids around me don’t notice any of it.

“Antler!” one of them cries, and the group is off, running across the rolling hills. A youngster is soon hoisting an impressive elk antler over his head. His friends look on with admiration, but soon another antler is spotted, and another.

I’m at The Nature Conservancy’s Zumwalt Prairie Preserve in northeast Oregon for what has become an annual event: a search for antlers shed by bull elk each spring. They’re collected by community members and sold to benefit the local 4-H and FFA groups.

Standing on the grasslands, it feels somewhat like an Easter egg hunt on steroids, with the “eggs” being antlers. As it turns out: a lot of antlers.

Lots of Elk on the Prairie

All members of the deer family shed their antlers each year, and finding these “sheds” has increasingly become a popular springtime activity for hunters and naturalists. I enjoy hunting for mule deer sheds in the hills behind my Boise home, and have published a couple of blogs on the subject.

Justin Jones, the Conservancy’s steward for the Zumwalt program, read those blogs and invited me to participate in one of the elk shed hunting days held on the Conservancy’s preserve every year. I’ve been meaning to visit Zumwalt for years.

In my experience, shed hunting can feel at times like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack, but Jones promised that the elk antlers would be plentiful. How could I resist? And so my wife Jennifer and 16-month-old son Derek hopped in the car for a shed hunting road trip.

We pulled into the preserve’s “summer camp” – a set of buildings that houses students and researchers – on a recent Saturday morning, with a line of other vehicles following. All around me stretched stunning grassland, the habitat protected at Zumwalt.

Read the rest of the original article here.

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