Skagit County, Wash., Assessor Dave Thomas reports that a survey found more than $1.4 million in damage to farms and ranches was caused by elk intrusions.

When state wildlife managers moved elk into the Skagit Valley, they took responsibility for them. So did the area Native American tribes, who helped with the effort.

But now that there’s a problem with too many elk, neither the state nor the tribes want to take responsibility for thinning the elk herd. They offer a certain amount of lip service, but now that the cost of the damage to farmers and ranchers in the valley has topped $1.4 million, the rhetoric has been dialed down to a whisper. It should be noted that 10% of those losses were at a single blueberry farm.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has only said it will offer a new plan on June 14. According to regional Director Amy Windrope, the plan will target larger groups of elk on farmland instead of using a “scatter-shot” approach.

Elk are a huge problem in parts of the Northwest, where wildlife “managers” appear to be unwilling or unable to manage the wildlife. They seem to wait until someone blows a gasket over massive losses caused by elk and only then do they come up with a plan.

In the meantime, the elk eat crops, wreck fences and let livestock out and interfere with cattle. In addition, they create traffic hazards and leave waste on school grounds where children play. A school bus driver reported nearly hitting elk — three times — during the past year. She slammed on the brakes hard enough to cause the bus to lurch to a stop as the elk crossed the road.

And anyone who objects to the elk is just supposed to grin and bear it.

When the Fish and Wildlife Department brought the last batch of elk into the area in 2002 it had a plan to control them.

“WDFW will adopt a zero tolerance policy in responding to any damage occurring as a result of elk introductions,” according to the department’s 2002 North Cascades elk herd plan. “This contingency plan prioritizes lethal removal of offending animals as opposed to spending considerable time and expense relocating problem elk that are likely to repeatedly return to damage areas.”

Considering how the department has ignored its 2002 plan, the people of Skagit County shouldn’t hold their breath about the new and improved plan. It may be a fine plan, but if the department and tribe ignore it, what’s the point?

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