Take the long view in Snoqualmie Valley animal encounters

Twice in the last two weeks, we’ve reported the concerns of locals who have had negative encounters with wildlife. This week, it was the Nursery at Mount Si’s pumpkin problem with elk. Last week, Snoqualmie resident Miriam Schneider’s sheep Lulu was devoured by a cougar.

These stories are nothing new—the Valley has always had its run-ins with wild animals. This summer, black bear complaints jumped on Snoqualmie Ridge. Bears have been trapped at Forster Woods and struck by cars on Interstate 90.

Folks shouldn’t panic when they hear about elk, cougars and bears doing ‘bad’ things. When bears go through our trash, cougars slink through our woods and elk trample our pumpkins, the initial reaction is seek to drive them off. But folks like Harold Erland, a lifelong North Bend resident and wildlife biologist by trade, react differently, reminding people that the animals were here first.

Erland is a stickler for verification—was your horse scratched by a cougar, or was it really scratched by blackberry thorns? He also looks for reasons why people and animals are encountering each other more often.

In the case of bears, Erland thinks that berries and other summer staples may not have ripened properly due to 2010’s bizarre weather, forcing bears to seek more trash meals. Elk used to roam mountain meadows, but declining wild habitat make the lush, hunter-free urban Valley an ideal place for them to hang out. And where there are elk, cougar are bound to follow.

It’s the growing elk herd, not bears or cougars, that poses the most danger to people. Serious car accidents happen more often than you think due to elk crossing highways.

Black bears can be dangerous—a bear recently mauled a man in Eastern Washington—but if you leave bears an out, they’ll generally take it. Sows will defend their cubs. Yet an amateur photographer who recently visited our office related how he took pictures of a treed cub on the Tokul Creek trail for more than an hour before leaving, with no sign of Mama Bear. This man was incredibly lucky—I for one would probably never take that risk.

So, how safe are we? Chris Moszeter, the Valley’s state wildlife enforcement officer, told me that your chances of being attacked by a predator are less than your chances of being crushed by a falling vending machine.

Anybody who needs a wildlife control success story should talk to Matt Campbell, owner of Mount Si Golf Course. Two years ago, Campbell invested in a high elk fence on the property. That was a steep expense, but today, he sings its praises.

Such a fence has been touted as a solution for elk woes at the Nursery at Mount Si—where elk were never seen four years ago. But anyone without an extra $40,000 can understand why nursery owner Nels Melgaard wants a better, wider-ranging solution than a big fence. Who would want an elk fence competing with their view of the mountain? Until funding opens up or long-term solutions are found, Nels’ patch will be doubling as an elk stomping ground.

Animals will always be among us. Experts tell us the best way to avoid problems with them is to understand them. Residents should take steps to bear-proof trash cans, orchards and bird feeders. If you are concerned about cougars, consider pruning vegetation on your property that they use as cover, and familiarize yourself with ways to be cougar-safe when hiking.

Folks who want to learn more about local efforts to control the elk herd can join the Upper Snoqualmie Valley Elk Management Group. Learn more about the group at snoqualmievalleyelk.org.

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