The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife should more freely issue kill permits to elk-bedeviled farmers and ranchers in eastern Skagit County, according to county commissioners.
The three commissioners make the request in a resolution to be presented to the Fish and Wildlife Commission on Saturday in Olympia. Besides issuing more permits to shoot elk, the department shouldn't condition permits on the landowner possibly opening their fields to hunters, according to the resolution.
"They're being asked to give up what is a property right — the right to exclude people from one's land," said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Honea, who drew up the resolution.
The trip will be the latest to Olympia by a contingent of Skagit County officials and landowners who say elk are endangering public safety and damaging property, particularly farms and ranches in the Upper Skagit Valley.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission and department managers say they want to get elk off farmland and into surrounding hills, too. The department hazes elk, installs fences and has allowed more hunting. To date, however, the problem is only getting worse, according to county officials and landowners.
County commissioners passed the resolution Tuesday. Besides damaging farmland, the elk are a hazard to motorists and students at schools where elk congregate, according to the resolution. Some elk are suffering from elk hoof disease, commonly referred to as hoof rot.
Fish and Wildlife and nine Indian tribes manage the North Cascades herd. The herd stems from Fish and Wildlife importing Rocky Mountain elk from King and Yakima counties in the 1940s. The department and tribes also imported elk captured near Mount St. Helens in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
"Some of the people in our community don't want to see any of them killed. The reality is they were brought here for the sole purpose of being a food source, just like people who raise beef or pork or sheep," Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt said. "We're just asking the state: You have a herd, be responsible."
Fish and Wildlife has been issuing a rising number of kill permits to landowners. Between July 1 and March 31, the department issued 66 kill permits, compared to 52 and 40 the two previous years. Not all the permits were used. Landowners harvested 23 cows and seven bulls in the past year, according to a department spokeswoman.
Public hunting can help reduce crop damage, and the department works with landowners to determine whether hunting is feasible, the spokeswoman said in an email.
Randy Good, a rancher who has led the campaign to keep the issue in front of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, said he won't sign an agreement to get a kill permit because he doesn't want to cede control over who hunts on his land.
"I'm not not going to sign it, and a majority of the farmers won't sign it," said Good, vice president of the Skagit County Cattlemen's Association.
The resolution identifies continuous and timely harvest of elk as the solution. If the department issued enough kill permits, landowners could take care of the problem, according to the resolution.
Upland hunting has moved the elk into the valley, where pastures are green, Honea said.
"They tend to take what they want when it comes to cattle feed," he said. "I personally watched a nice six-point bill tear apart a big round bale."
Elk moved back to the hills would not take long to come back down, Honea said. "Relocation within their range is not a realistic solution here."