The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reports it has increased hunting, put up fences and issued permits to landowners to shoot elk, but doesn’t claim success yet in keeping the animals off farmland in Skagit County.
In a new report to legislators, the department outlines its response to complaints that the North Cascades elk herd is a problem for farmers and a hazard to motorists.
Fish and Wildlife’s north Puget Sound director, Amy Windrope, said Tuesday she’s hopeful the measures will work, given time. “I think we’re putting in place the tools to make it better, but I don’t think it’s better than last year. I can’t say that.”
Fish and Wildlife and Native American tribes succeeded in reviving the herd over the past 15 years. The department estimates there are 1,600 elk in the herd’s core area, including several hundred in valleys. With the growth has come reports of agricultural damage and vehicles colliding with elk.
Legislators in 2016 directed Fish and Wildlife to minimize the number of elk on private land and to report back by Sept. 1. The department issued a report to meet the deadline and is expected to provide more details this month in a new 10-year herd plan.
Besides hunting, fences and permission to shoot elk on private property, the department reports trying to create more elk habitat on public lands.
Landowner Randy Good, vice president of the Skagit County Cattlemen’s Association, said Tuesday he was disappointed in Fish and Wildlife’s report.
The department’s plan to reduce farm damage amounts to continuing the same methods that aren’t working, he said.
“The report just promotes continuing their unworkable solutions,” he said.
The department issued 52 damage-control permits over a nine-month period that ended March 31, up from 40 the year before. The shootings are meant to warn elk off private land, not reduce the overall population.
Good said such hazing is ineffective. “Elk are becoming domesticated. You shoot one, and they move to the other side of the field, or your neighbor’s field, but they come right back,” he said.
Windrope said the department may have to find new techniques to haze elk. “We need to be smarter than the elk, and change our behavior, and the question is what will be effective.”
State Sen. Keith Wagoner, a Republican who represents eastern Skagit County, said he favors letting landowners shoot an elk causing damage without waiting for a permit from Fish and Wildlife. “I think when the elk are causing an economic hardship for a person, they have the right to protect their investment,” he said. “For all the good intentions, we haven’t found a solution that’s making farmers whole again.”
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said elk damage is a concern in other places, but eastern Skagit County stands out.
“I can’t think of a place with as much of a conflict,” he said. “I feel for Fish and Wildlife trying to unravel this.”
The Skagit County Assessor’s Office is surveying elk damage to agriculture. The survey won’t be done until the end of the year, but the office projects the annual damage could total about $1.4 million. Farmers can apply for up to $10,000 in compensation from Fish and Wildlife. Farmers must hire an adjuster, submit business records and open their land to hunters. No one has filed a claim since 2016.