By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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According to satellite tracking data from collars worn by Roosevelt elk in the Dungeness herd, the animals crossed U.S. Highway 101 from north to south late Thursday morning somewhere between Whitefeather Way and Palo Alto Road southeast of Sequim, said Tim Cullinan, wildlife program coordinator for the Point No Point Treaty Council, which manages the herd.
Cullinan said when he talked with the Peninsula Daily News on Thursday that the latest information spotted the elk still on the north side of the highway, and he did not find out until Saturday that the herd had moved to the south side.
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office had warned Thursday that the elk were likely to cross the road and that deputies planned to shut the highway when the animals crossed because the large animals can be a traffic hazard.
No road closures
Undersheriff Ron Peregrin said Saturday that the Sheriff’s Office heard of no issues concerning the crossing and said no traffic detours or road closures were needed.
“[The elk] crossed the road on their own,” Peregrin said. “We continue to monitor them because they might want to go back [across].”
As of early Saturday morning, Cullinan said tracking data showed the roughly 35-animal-strong herd, mostly females, or cows, and newborn calves, in the dense woods about half a mile north of the Sequim Bay Lodge.
The animals were about 250 yards away from Highway 101, Cullinan said, but may choose to venture back north at some point.
“They’ve crossed the highway, but they haven’t gone very far,” Cullinan said.
“They’re all still hanging around that area, so there still is some risk there.”
The herd’s movements are hard to predict, but Cullinan said he suspects the animals will stay in the general area throughout the weekend but potentially not much longer.
“Where they are now, I’ve never seen them stay for more than a few days,” Cullinan said.
Elk typically cross Highway 101 one or two at a time at first, Cullinan said, but eventually cross en masse once the first few make it to the other side.
Elk cows weigh between 700 and 800 pounds and if struck could easily destroy a car and potentially kill the driver, Cullinan said.
Males, or bulls, are larger than the cows but don’t spend time with the cows and their young during this time of year, Cullinan explained.
The only bulls currently moving with the Dungeness herd are year-old offspring of the cows.
“They will stay with their mothers until April or May, then leave and go and join smaller groups of other bulls,” Cullinan said.
Over the past year or so, Cullinan said, the herd has been spending a lot less time in the foothills south of Highway 101 and much more time in the fields and pastures north of the highway, sometimes even before summer starts.
“It’s not their typical pattern,” he said.
Just a few years ago, Cullinan said, the herd would typically spend most, if not all, of the summer on the south side and move to the north come fall and winter.
“They’re [now] spending the growing season in the north farmlands,” Cullinan said.
Cullinan said this behavior has caused problems for a number of Sequim-area farmers north of Highway 101 since the elk often move into their fields at night and eat their crops, such as corn.
Elk normally eat a mixture of forage grasses and woody shrubs but won’t hesitate to take advantage of open fields of crops if the opportunity is there.
Cullinan said he could not say why the elk are spending less time in the foothills south of the highway.
He postulated that the reason could be the presence of a cougar new to that area, though he has had no reports of that.
“We [would] never see it, but the elk [would] sure know it’s there,” Cullinan said.
“All it takes is for them to detect the presence of a predator like that, and they’ll leave.”
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Arwyn Rice contributed to this report.