Elk safely back in old grounds

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SEQUIM — The Dungeness herd of elk returned to their old haunts Wednesday and no longer pose a potential traffic hazard, said Tim Cullinan, wildlife coordinator for the Point No Point Treaty Council, on Thursday.

The elk herd of about 35 cows, calves and yearlings, which crossed U.S. Highway 101 sometime between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Tuesday for the second time in two weeks, crossed West Sequim Bay Road on Wednesday and continued moving north through the Bell Creek Valley, Cullinan said.

By nightfall, the elk were back in their accustomed territory in the agricultural areas northwest of Sequim, Cullinan added, and by 7 a.m. Thursday, they were in the fields near the intersection of Schmuck Road and Port Williams Road about 2 miles north of Highway 101.

'In a safe place'

“So, at least for now, the elk are in a safe place and pose no danger to traffic on the highway,” Cullinan said, speaking from his office in Kingston at about 11 a.m. Thursday.

“I suspect that by this time, they are probably back in the woods by Grays-marsh” northeast of Sequim, Cullinan said. “For the last few months, their behavior pattern is that they move around a lot at night but retreat into the woods by day,” he said.

“They're quite a distance from the highway, and I don't see them being a problem at least over the next few days,” Cullinan added.

The Clallam County Sheriff's Office had sent out several Nixle text and email alerts in the past two weeks to warn drivers that the herd was on the move near major thoroughfares.

Largest elk

Roosevelt elk are the largest elk in North America. Cows weigh between 700 and 800 pounds, and mature bull elk — which usually travel in separate herds from the cows — can weigh up to 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.

The herd crossed Highway 101 heading south Dec. 20.

The herd has been on the move because of difficulty finding food, Cullinan said.

Commercial hay fields have been cut very short for the winter, and most commercial crops have been harvested, he added, saying there are better food sources in the higher reaches of Happy Valley south of Highway 101.

In the 1980s, the slowly migrating herd emerged from Olympic National 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.

10 months a year

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.

Last modified: January 03. 2013 6:07PM
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