By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News
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By Thursday, the elk had settled on the northeast side of Bell Hill, a third of a mile from the highway — an area with plenty of open fields and grazing for the 700-800 pound elk cows and their half-grown calves and yearlings, said Tim Cullinan, wildlife program coordinator for the Point No Point Treaty Council, which manages the herd.
They also have made their way, at times, to areas 1.5 miles up Palo Alto Road, and crossed Johnson Creek, he said.
A week ago the herd of about 35 elk massed by the roadside north of Highway 101 in preparation for crossing to their winter grazing area south of the road.
They crossed between 10 a.m. and noon Dec. 20 without incident, Cullinan said.
It is unlikely they will try to cross again within the next couple of weeks because the area they are in is ideal for elk, he said.
Cullinan said he thought that if they do cross again in the near future, they are more likely to cross further west, where they are more visible from the road.
“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, which trigger the lights when the elk are within a quarter-mile of the road.
Roosevelt Elk, the largest elk in North America, are much larger than the typical 125-pound whitetail doe.
If a car hits an elk in the road at a speed high enough to kill an elk, it often means the car is destroyed,
It is the first time since April that the main Sequim elk herd of about 35 cows, calves and yearlings have shown interest in moving south of the highway,
First discovered in the 1970s, the slowly migrating herd kept to a higher elevation range in the Dungeness watershed area in the Olympic National Forest.
In the 1980s, it emerged from the forest and began moving north, into the Happy Valley area,
At one time, the herd crossed the highway about monthly, moving between their northern and southern ranges.
In the last 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 bear 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.