Sequim elk still near highway but retreat into the woods

By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News

SEQUIM –– After three days of milling around in fields off U.S. Highway 101, the Dungeness herd of Roose­velt elk has retreated into the woods for cover, the expert who is tracking them reported Saturday.

Tim Cullinan, wildlife coordinator for the Point No Point Treaty Council who has been monitoring the herd of some 28 elk for several years, said they spent daylight hours Friday in the deep brush along Johnson Creek east of Sequim.

The dense cover there keeps the herd hidden from people, who Cullinan said often “stress” the 800-pound animals with attempts to get close-up views.

“Once they get into the woods, they feel pretty safe,” Cullinan said. “It’s kind of an inaccessible place, and nobody goes in there to bother them.”

Friday’s full moon, and the larger-phase moons of the past several days, Cullinan said, allows the elk to stay in the woods during the day and head out to fields to forage for food under the moonlight.

The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office issued warnings to motorists Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday that the elk were near the highway and to watch for them while driving.

That brought out elk fans, who came to spot the massive beasts in the open.

Watchers trying to get closer looks made the nervous beasts edgy, prompting them to get up from their rest and move away, Cullinan said.

“When the food supply is low during the winter like this, the last thing they can afford to do is expend a lot of energy,” he said.

Cullinan advised those who want to watch the elk when they are in the open to keep a distance, both for personal safety and to allow the animals to relax.

“Winter’s a time that’s already pretty stressful for them,” he said.

With forage food limited in the foothills, Cullinan said, the herd discovered an abundance of fertilized, irrigated grazing ground in the farm fields of the Dungeness Valley about 10 years ago.

“Prior to that, we almost never saw them north of the highway,” he said.

“Once they got off the hills in the south and found that thick, juicy hay in the valley, it was like they hit the jackpot.”

That grazing, however, damages the crops of farmers who see the hay and corn primarily as cash crops.

Sgt. Eric Anderson, an enforcement officer with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the Peninsula Daily News earlier this month that hunters shot four elk cows from the herd in an effort to stop them from damaging crops and drive the herd into other areas.

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Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at jsmillie@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 26. 2013 6:42PM
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