How to Keep Elk From Eating Trees

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If you live in a mountainous region of North America or northeastern Asia, no doubt you've had problems with elk munching on your fruit trees and conifers. The problem quickly becomes serious, because a single elk can eat up to twelve pounds of leaves a day, so even a small herd can devastate your trees. Elk aren't easy to deter, but there are several effective methods for keeping elk away from trees without harming wildlife or native plants. When you know how to keep elk from eating trees, you can keep your orchard and landscaping trees safe year round.

Things You'll Need

  • Tree covers Elk repellent Elk alarm Elk-proof fencing
  • Cover young trees and buds with netting, tubes, tree shelters, or paper bud caps. These covers are especially useful for protecting seedlings and young trees. There are also wrap-around tree trunk covers for protecting tree bark from elk during the winter. Once a tree reaches a certain size, however, covering it may no longer be practical or even possible. Many tree covers are biodegradable, though, so removal isn't necessary.

  • Apply elk repellent to the trees or the area around the trees. The most effective elk repellents are those with a sulfur smell such as rotten eggs or blood meal. The scent of mountain lion (cougar) and wolf urine also deters elk, since these animals are the elk's natural predators. Powder repellents last longer than liquid, but both may need to be reapplied every three or four weeks during rainy weather. While not as effective, spreading spicy or bitter flavors such as hot sauce on the trees can also discourage elk.

  • Try an elk alarm. These battery-operated or solar-powered units emit a loud, pulsing noise similar to a car alarm and are triggered when an elk crosses in front of the unit's sensor. Some units can sense elk up to sixty feet away. A wolf call imitator that's triggered in the same manner may also deter elk, but elk have been known to ignore these once they realize it's not a real wolf.

  • Provide an alternative food source. If you're working with a large plot of land, you may be able to keep elk from eating trees on your property by clearing a ten- to twenty-foot swath between your land and the wilderness area and planting the elks' natural forage plants on the wilderness side. Plants that work well for this include fescue grass, clover, lupine, beans, and berry bushes that are native to your area.

  • Build an elk fence. Effective elk fencing is labor intensive and expensive to install, and elk often manage to break through even relatively strong fences. As a last resort, however, wire mesh fencing (hog wire) or heavy polypropylene deer fencing of eight feet or higher topped with coiled wire can be constructed around the property to keep elk out. The property must be enclosed completely, as elk can easily find and force their way even a small opening.

Tips & Warnings

  • Avoid planting aspens, willows, and pine, as these are some of the elk's favorite trees to eat.
  • Elk alarms should work without human intervention. Human-controlled loud noises such as shouting, rifle shots and firecrackers will scare elk away temporarily, but the elk will come back at night when no one's looking. Don't seed non-native plants for elk forage. The elk may not eat them, and they may invade your crop land or become overgrown rodent habitat. Electric fences are not particularly effective against elk.

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