Officials at the J.T. Nickel Preserve confirmed this week that four cow elk were shot by an area livestock farmer last Friday, April 6, after he spotted the animals grazing on his property.

Tom Hood, who raises cattle along the Illinois River, shot four of approximately 15 elk he says were in his hay pasture. Hood said he received approval from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to take action, adding that State Game Warden Brady May personally delivered the approval, and “saw the whole deal.”

The ODWC is responsible for issuing hunting and fishing licenses and depredation permits. Hood said he received permits shortly after reporting the trespass to the ODWC.

In recent months, elk wandering from the preserve property have incurred the wrath of several Scraper area farmers, who filed formal complaints with ODWC claiming the animals have damaged their property.

Following application and review of purported harm, the farmers were initially granted permits by the ODWC to kill 20 of the 60-member herd if the animals were found on their land. The permits were good for 30 days, and during that time, two of the herd were killed. Permits expired approximately a month ago.

Recently, officials from the ODWC and the J.T. Nickel Preserve reported relations between farmers and preserve personnel had improved. Chris Wilson, representative of the preserve, indicated diligent electronic tracking and monitoring of animals by preserve personnel and additional planting of grasses were helping keep the elk at home.

Nels Rodefeld, ODWC information and education chief, said in the same follow-up interview that none of the farmers had asked for permits to be reissued. Both officials agreed that farmers and preserve personnel and the ODWC seemed to be willing to work together.

Hood concurred, saying the situation was fine for a while, but added that relations weren’t as friendly as they seemed between landowners and the Nickel Preserve.

“We were never told we had to call the preserve to tell them the elk were on our property again, instead of going to ODWC for new permits,” said Hood. “During the first 30 days [when the depredation permits were active], everything was fine. They [preserve personnel] never let the elk wander off and monitored them constantly. After the permits expired, it was back to the same old thing, and the elk were all over the place.”

Hood said he didn’t enjoy having to shoot the animals, but insisted the herd’s consumption of his hay has been a financial concern for a very long time.

“We tried to work with them [Nickel Preserve] for two years, and nothing ever got any better,” said Hood. “Once permits were issued by the state and animals were killed, things changed for a while.”

Hood said he bought the plot of pasture in question for the quality of the soil and the hay it produces, and that the land is key to his financial well-being.

“I raise registered-breed cattle and grow that hay for them,” said Hood. “These [elk] aren’t deer. They eat about 10 times as much. You get 15 to 30 elk grazing in your pasture, and it doesn’t take long for it to be a complete loss.”

Wilson wishes the farmers would allow preserve personnel an opportunity to remove the animals from their farms before shooting them, even if they possess permits and the kill is legal.

“We got a call at about 2 p.m. Friday afternoon, saying a landowner was going to be issued permits within the hour,” said Wilson. “When we got the message, myself and another employee headed up there. By the time we pulled in, the landowner was out among the elk and had already shot four of them.”

Wilson himself did not identify Hood as the landowner in question, and he declined to reveal who provided him with the information about Hood and his permits. But he indicated 10 elk had been trespassing when he arrived at the farm, which the Press later learned was Hood’s.

Hood said initially there were at least 15 animals on his property, and that normal attempts at scaring them off had failed.

“These animals aren’t wild,” said Hood. “They’re domesticated. Shooting in the air to scare them off doesn’t work. They just circle up and look at you. We’ve tried for years to run them off. The only thing that gets rid of them is being herded off by dogs. They’re more tame than a lot of cows.”

That’s why Hood believes they should be fenced in and monitored on site at the Nickel Preserve.

“This area is not an open range. I keep my cattle in my fence, and they should keep their domesticated animals in their fence,” he said.

Hood wondered why Wilson wasn’t already aware of the herd’s wandering, since most of the animals are electronically tagged, and as Wilson reported in past articles, they were being closely monitored to prevent herd loss.

Wilson did not respond, but said that three years ago, when the elk were re-introduced to the area, the ODWC and the Nickel Preserve had an understanding that the animals would be free-roaming, with no fences to restrict their movement.

Although the Nickel Preserve maintains responsibility for re-introducing, tracking and feeding the elk, the animals are the property of the state, and are ultimately the concern of ODWC. Wilson has no say on who receives permits, nor is the ODWC obliged to provide him - or anyone else, including the media - with information on granted applications. According to the Oklahoma Open Meeting and Records Act, information about who receives hunting permits is confidential.

“We’re happy to assume the responsibility of caring for, tagging and monitoring the elk,” said Wilson. “We want this project to succeed and believe the it should continue at no cost to the state, but we are unhappy with the ODWC in its decision to issue permits so quickly.”

Wilson believes the state may not have been diligent in determining the new complaint was causing the farmer irreparable damage before re-issuing the permits, but instead relied on the landowner’s personal assessment of the situation.

“If the threshold has fallen so low that simply sighting an elk is enough to get a permit reissued, things are bad,” said Wilson.

Hood indicated when he spotted the herd on his land, he contacted the Oklahoma City office to register a complaint.

“I went through the proper permit application process before [when the first permits were issued],” said Hood. “ODWC has all the information about the damage done here before and the problem we have now. [Brady May] was here, he brought me the permits, took pictures and saw the whole deal.”

Two messages requesting interviews were left by the Daily Press on ODWC spokesman Rodefeld’s cell phone, but the calls were not returned by press time.

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, was shocked to hear new permits had been issued, and he plans to query ODWC officials today. He was under the impression the grazing and nuisance issue the farmers complained about had been solved following the first round of 30-day depredation permits.

“The way I understood it, the ODWC wasn’t going to issue any more permits, unless Chris [Wilson] didn’t take care of business,” said the senator. “I believed from the information I received that Chris was working hard to cooperate with the landowners and that tracking was taking place and the animals were being monitored. I also have a hard time believing permits were reissued that quickly and through a series of calls. If permits were actually issued that fast in that manner, ODWC was wrong to do it.”

Sen. Wilson did not fault farmers for seeking recourse, but indicated he would be investigating the matter with the ODWC immediately to confirm the incident and its circumstances.

“The way this is happening, it almost looks likes there’s a desire to shoot the animals,” said Sen. Wilson. “I understand the Nickel Preserve is only capable of managing a herd of 60 animals, but I don’t think the farmers should be allowed to shoot them to control their numbers.”

Sen. Wilson believes the elk are an added attraction to the area, and was happy the Nickel Preserve chose to reintroduce the animals that were native and plentiful in this area 150 years ago.

Hood reiterated he did not enjoy killing the animals, but felt he had no recourse.

“None of us is a big-game hunter,” said Hood. “I don’t want to shoot the elk; I just have to take care of what’s mine.”

Trending Video