By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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Late yesterday morning, the elk crossed West Sequim Bay Road and continued moving north through the Bell Creek Valley. By nightfall they were back in their old haunts in the agricultural areas northwest of Sequim.
At 7 o'clock this morning, the elk were in the fields near the intersection of Schmuck Road and Port Williams Road, about 2 miles north of Highway 101.
So, at least for now, the elk are in a safe place and pose no danger to traffic on the highway.
SEQUIM — The Dungeness herd of Roosevelt elk are on the move again.
The herd crossed U.S. Highway 101 sometime between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tuesday for the second time in two weeks and was considered likely to cross other major roads in the east Sequim area soon.
As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, the herd of about 35 cows, calves and yearlings was milling between Highway 101 and West Sequim Bay Road near the Holiday Inn Express, 1441 E. Washington St. — and was showing signs of wanting to continue its journey north, said Tim Cullinan, wildlife coordinator for the Point No Point Treaty Council.
A half-dozen cars were pulled to the side of the road Wednesday morning, Cullinan said.
Drivers and passengers were out taking pictures of the herd, which were spooking them and keeping them from crossing the road, he added.
The elk disappeared soon after they were spotted, and at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Cullinan said he thought they had traveled east to spend the daylight hours in the Johnson Creek woods, where they would feel more protected.
The herd is having difficulty finding food and is making some unusually big movements in its search, Cullinan said.
He said that usually, the herd will find a food source and stay close to it, but recently, it is moving longer distances more often — a quarter- or half-mile at a time.
“Everything is frozen or dried out,” Cullinan said.
Commercial hay fields have been cut very short for the winter, and most commercial crops have been harvested, he added.
There are better food sources in the higher reaches of Happy Valley south of Highway 101, where fallow hay fields haven't been cut and have enough forage for the herd for some time, Cullinan said.
“I don't know why they haven't gone there,” Cullinan said.
The herd has used the Happy Valley fields for forage before and should remember it, he said.
They crossed Highway 101 heading south Dec. 20 and mostly have remained on Bell Hill, not far from the Happy Valley fields.
Cullinan said he thought the elk could cross Highway 101 again in the near future in their search for food.
The Clallam County Sheriff's Office released a Nixle text and email alert Wednesday morning to tell drivers of the herd's location.
“Watch for those lights,” Cullinan said, referring to warning lights placed on Highway 101 on the approach to the common elk crossing areas near Sequim.
The lights are linked to tracking collars worn by several elk in the herd that trigger the lights when the elk are within a quarter-mile of the road.
Roosevelt elk cows, the largest elk in North America at 700-800 pounds, are much larger than the typical 125-pound whitetail doe.
Mature bull elk, which usually travel in a separate, smaller herd, can weigh 1,000 pounds.
If a car hits an elk at a speed high enough to kill the animal, it often means the car is destroyed, Cullinan said.
First discovered in the 1970s, the slowly migrating herd once kept to a higher elevation range in the Dungeness watershed area in the Olympic National Forest.
In the 1980s, the herd emerged from the forest and began moving north into the Happy Valley area.
At one time, the herd crossed the highway monthly, moving between its northern and southern ranges.
In the past two years, the animals have spent about 10 months a year north of Highway 101, mostly in the Graysmarsh area, and cross only two to four times a year, Cullinan said.
The gradual shift to the north seems to be initiated by pressure from predators such as mountain lions and bears in the higher elevations in Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park, and by the better-quality forage in the lowlands, he said.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.