Opinion | Outsmarting the ‘genius’ Valley elk

Driving from Snoqualmie to North Bend a few weeks ago to see a show about a certain Hobbit, I had to slow down on Elk Tourism Row. That’s not an official title for State Route 202, but it’s a good descriptor for what happens when a two-lane highway must also accommodate parked cars on both lanes. Dozens of folks—it’s impossible that they were all out-of-towners—had jumped out of their cars to witness a major conclave of elk on Meadowbrook Farm. Momentarily inconvenienced, my reactions jumped from impatience at the traffic jam to wonder at the sight. Why get upset? I thought. The elk were in the field, doing their thing. So were the camera-packing travelers.

Driving from Snoqualmie to North Bend a few weeks ago to see a show about a certain Hobbit, I had to slow down on Elk Tourism Row. That’s not an official title for State Route 202, but it’s a good descriptor for what happens when a two-lane highway must also accommodate parked cars on both lanes.

Dozens of folks—it’s impossible that they were all out-of-towners—had jumped out of their cars to witness a major conclave of elk on Meadowbrook Farm. Momentarily inconvenienced, my reactions jumped from impatience at the traffic jam to wonder at the sight. Why get upset? I thought. The elk were in the field, doing their thing. So were the camera-packing travelers.

Carol Ladwig’s article on the work by the Valley elk group and the elk travel corridors in North Bend underlines how people in the Valley continue to face the challenge of living with wildlife. Whether it’s a trash bear roaming the Ridge, the occasional cougar sighting near Meadowbrook, or the frequent movement of elk through Valley neighborhoods, these wild animals are a year-round presence, and that’s never going to change. And, according to wildlife officers, it’s on us to learn to live with these animals in a safe, smart way, because these animals are pretty smart, too.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Living with Wildlife page (http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/) has a number of tips about how to do this.

The state recommends non-lethal methods, in particular fences, to ensure that elk stay away from property where they don’t belong. To withstand an elk, a fence has to be either tall and strong, or electrified.

For any fence to be effective, it must be seen by elk. A group of elk, led by the dominant cow, will plow through any type of fence, except perhaps a cyclone fence, if it is in their path and they don’t see it before the herd is upon it. That means using colored tape or, the state suggests, branches on the top, to make it stand out.

Elk are most active at dawn and dusk, so those are the times to be most watchful on the road. One elk crossing the road may be a sign that others are getting ready to go.

Try to drive more slowly at night, giving yourself time to see an elk. Lower the brightness of your dash lights to make it easier to see an animal.

Hooves can slip on pavement and an elk may fall in front of your vehicle just when you think it is jumping away. If you accidentally hit and kill an elk, try to move the animal off the road—provided you can do so in complete safety. Otherwise, report the location of the elk’s body to the city, county, or state highway department. If nobody responds, call the police, who can arrange for the body to be removed, preventing scavengers from being attracted to the road, and eliminating a potential traffic hazard.

Some of these methods might seem like a step too far, that it’s too much trouble to put up fences and drive more warily. Some might say we should remove the elk from the Valley floor altogether.

That’s not realistic. Local elk watchers are using lethal methods in the most careful, humane ways, but even those who advocate for lethal force to counter elk problems would by no means want to see the herds vanish from our communities.

When it comes to solving the dilemmas caused by Valley elk, there is no quick solution, only the patient process of adaptation on both sides.

Elk are smart. People are smarter. We can work this out.

 


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