Opinion | Respect, life and death when elk, people cross paths

He told me about the adrenaline rush, and sure enough, Tom Kemp was right.

Kemp, the chaplain at North Bend’s TA truck stop, has taken part in more than two dozen elk collarings as a volunteer for the Upper Snoqualmie Valley Elk Management Group. While the job is old hat for veterans like him, it sure was a thrilling way for me to start my day last Thursday. I’ve never been that close to an elk before, and cow no. 38, now known as “Danielle,” probably never had been this close to people, either.

Before Thursday, I had the wrong idea what Kemp, team leader Harold Erland and their fellow volunteers were up to on these cold late-fall days. I knew local elk watchers collared elk, but I had figured it was an easier affair that relied on darts and unconscious animals. The true reality has eight people wrangling a live, stubborn, very awake elk, then strapping a radio collar on its neck and letting it go, in a fast, tense miniature rodeo.

What’s more, this activity is happening, not on some remote mountaintop somewhere, but right here in the city limits of our Valley, not far from homes and roads—maybe your home or your road.My self-education about the local elk herd, and the people who devote so much of their lives to understanding it, isn’t limited to collars. Poaching, too, has become a topic of concern.

Illegal hunting of local elk and deer has probably been a long-running Valley reality. What brought it to the forefront, for me, was the shooting last month of two bull elk near a North Bend shopping plaza, coupled with a citizen report we received, inquiring about the frequency of poaching.

Talk to folks like the elk group volunteers or our local wildlife officers, you’ll get the sense that this shadowy activity is common in a place famed for its elk, but no one really knows just how prevalent.

Poaching is the opposite of hunting. Folks who are passionate about elk—who also hire hunters to cull the herd—deplore poaching, calling it a despicable waste.

Complicating the situation is the prevalence of trespassing, in which some hunters invade others’ property for the chase, brushing off complaints and fines as part of the cost of a prize kill. Game wardens now want to tighten the penalties, simply to make people follow the law and respect each other.

This time last year, I ran a story on the master hunters who use their rifle skills to change the behavior of the Valley’s elk herd. This week, the theme is on how volunteer scientists stress safety and understanding in the tense, risky business of collaring.

Both activities underline how tightly woven the people of the Valley are with wild animals, and how responsible people balance deadly force with the utmost care for animals’ safety in their efforts to create a balance. It’s broadened my respect for the animals, for the elk group volunteers, and for lawful hunters who follow rules, respect property and pay fees to support the resource.

If you think of this place as a bedroom community, a suburb, it may be time for a wakeup call. We must recognize that the Valley remains a wild place in many ways. Drive with the awareness that an elk could leap out on the next bend. If you’ve got a bear in your neighborhood, respect nature and your neighbors by using a bear-proof garbage container.

For your own safety and the greater good, please respect the fact that we’re not the only ones here.


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