The elk damaging farms and ranches in eastern Skagit County also are trampling school grounds and potentially putting students in harm’s way, two school chiefs say.

Concrete School District Superintendent Wayne Barrett and Sedro-Woolley School District Superintendent Phil Brockman said elk congregate on school property and cause problems.

“I’m a hunter. I like elk, but there are just too many of them,” Barrett said Monday. “If nothing else, triple the number of (hunting) tags that go to landowners and let them deal with it.”

The elk, a significant part of the North Cascades herd, have been a problem for agriculture for several years. Farmers say elk are eating and contaminating crops; damaging pastures, hay bales and fences; and spreading hoof rot.

Skagit County Assessor Dave Thomas said last week he anticipates a nearly finished survey will find that elk caused about $1.6 million damage on 5,000 acres of farmland in one year.

Barrett said elk are damaging the school district’s football and baseball fields. The elk gather, 30 to 40 at a time, within 60 to 80 yards of where children play, he said.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife hazes elk off school property, but the elk return, sometimes the next day, Barrett said.

“We deal with them all the time,” he said “It’s just a numbers game. There are way too many elk.”

Fish and Wildlife and nine Indian tribes grew the herd by curbing hunting and importing elk from Mount St. Helens.

Skagit Valley farmers have used various forums to explain their problems. Last week, Brockman joined farmers who spoke at a meeting of Skagit County commissioners.

Brockman said the elk are troublesome around an elementary school in Lyman, about 9 miles east of Sedro-Woolley. He said he recently rode a school bus and witnessed the hazard of elk crossing roads.

“There are a lot of elk early in the morning on our bus routes, and I’m concerned for the safety of our kids, that one of our buses could have a collision with one of those big elk,” he said.

Brockman said in an interview that elk gather near the school. A fence separates the elk from a playground, but Brockman said he’s still concerned for the students.

“There are wild animals out there, so we’re fearful our kids will be interested in checking them out,” he said.

Fish and Wildlife has helped build fences, hazed elk and issued some kill permits to landowners. There are several hundred elk on lowlands. Landowners with kill permits shot 16 elk in 2018, according to Fish and Wildlife.

{p class=”p1”}Fish and Wildlife has lengthened hunting seasons and issued more licenses to youth, senior, disabled and archery hunters, according to a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman. “This effort is, and will continue to be, implemented to modify elk behavior over time and subsequent generations,” she said in an email.

{p class=”p1”}Fish and Wildlife and tribal co-managers are focusing on specific groups of elk, she said. “This includes hazing at all hours throughout the night, landowner and Master Hunter harvest, and monitoring the effectiveness of the efforts.”

State Rep. Caroline Eslick, whose district includes eastern Skagit County, said Tuesday that she still hopes to pass a bill this session to increase compensation to farmers for elk damage. She also said she’s working with Fish and Wildlife to simplify filing a claim.

Eslick said farmers tell her that they expect the valley’s elk population to increase this spring. “It’s just getting worse,” she said.

Farmers report that elk regularly breach electric fences. The area’s state senator, Republican Keith Wagoner, has proposed testing a style of fence developed in New Zealand to keep out wildlife.

Wagoner introduced a bill to install the fence along two farms abutting Highway 20. At 8-feet high and made of wire-mesh, putting up 2 miles of the fence would cost $680,000 — $528,000 for the fence and $152,000 for “indirect” administrative costs, according to Fish and Wildlife.

Wagoner’s bill has not been endorsed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Wagoner said he still has hopes of getting something in the capital budget.

“I know farmers are frustrated and want it solved now, but it’s not the way big bureaucracies work,” he said.

Wagoner acknowledged that Fish and Wildlife has tried to reduce the number of elk on farmland, but said it’s likely those efforts will be more than offset by spring births. “It’s still not progress.”

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