THERE’S A CERTAIN tension in the woods these days. The animals are nervous, as if they have something to hide.
There is a whole new crop of deer fawns and elk calves hiding in the brush where their mothers left them. Where hopefully they will remain undisturbed by the myriad varmints that want to eat them.
Bears, coyotes and cougars also have their own youngsters about now and everything eats everything else in a functioning ecosystem.
Even the most dangerous predator in the woods, man, has increasingly rejected the naïve notion that so-called abandoned fawns or calves must be rescued.
When you see an abandoned baby elk or deer all pitiful and alone the best thing to do is ignore them and keep on walking. The mother is probably nearby feeding and she knows right where she left her baby.
There was a time however, back in the early years of the past century, when elk calves were a valuable commodity in the local pioneer economy.
Money could be made discovering elk calves with the aid of a good shepherd dog and money was hard to come by back then.
It was all part of a grand experiment by the U.S Forest Service. The effects of which are still being felt to this day.
It began in the summer of 1923 shortly after the road around Lake Crescent was built. Chris Morgenroth was a German immigrant and pioneer homesteader who became a ranger for the Olympic Forest Reserve, which would later become Olympic National Park.
Morgenroth and Clarence Adams released two pairs of mountain goats near Mount Storm King in the summer of 1923.
Adams wrote in Morgenroth’s autobiography, “Footprints in the Olympics,” that one of the goats put its head down and charged Morgenroth who barely escaped by climbing a tree.
The story of the introduction of goats in the Olympics is also described in the classic pioneer book, “The Iron Man of the Hoh, The Man Not the Myth” by John Huelsdonk’s daughter, Elizabeth Huelsdonk Fletcher.
In the book, Fletcher describes how Alaska was trading Washington mountain goats for elk at a ratio of two elk for every goat.
The Washington Department of Game paid Miss Huelsdonk $100 for every elk calf, which was huge money at the time.
The book describes how the elk were found in the forest and carried home, where they were raised on a diet of milk until they were big enough to walk to Forks, where the young elk were eventually shipped to Kodiak Island.
Fletcher also mentions how some of the Olympic elk were shipped to Skagit County, where they soon became a real problem. The Hoh elk had no fear of people especially their pastures and gardens. A fence which could stop a cow would hardly slow down an elk.
Ironically, just last week — almost 100 years after this grand experiment — the Washington state Fish and Game Commission met in Port Angeles to discuss the problem of the Skagit County elk.
Putting Olympic elk on Kodiak Island did not go well, either. Our elk were so cold and lonely for human companionship they started breaking into people’s houses, so they were shipped to Afognak Island, where they are currently thriving.
Putting Alaskan goats in the Olympics has also been controversial. People have been fighting over the goats ever since.
The current National Park Service administration is going to make another attempt to remove the goats from the park, where they have killed at least one hiker and been accused of endangering plants.
Those who ignore history are often confused by the present.
Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected].