Elk in Skagit County, Wash.

Elk take over a field in Skagit County, Wash.

Elk intrusions cost farmers and ranchers in eastern Skagit County, Wash., more than $1.4 million a year, according to a county assessor’s survey.

Elk damage was reported by 107 producers, affecting 5,182 acres, Assessor Dave Thomas said June 6. In some cases, farmers didn’t pinpoint losses, but provided a range. Thomas said he tallied the most conservative figures.

“I would say it (damage) is understated,” he said. “There are a lot of people who really don’t have an idea of what it costs.”

The assessor’s office undertook the survey a year ago to gauge whether elk are affecting the profitability of farming in eastern Skagit County. Over the past year, Thomas periodically provided preliminary results that early on projected expenses would top $1 million.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated in March that 200 to 400 elk live in the valley east of Interstate 5. The elk are part of the North Cascades herd co-managed by Fish and Wildlife and nine Indian tribes.

Some 140 producers returned the survey, and 76% reported elk damage. The average loss exceeded $12,000. The biggest loss, $150,000, was reported by a blueberry grower.

Farmers most often reported damage to fences and crops, according to the assessor’s office. Many reported spoiled hay bales and stunted trees, and that livestock had escaped through breached fences.

Farmers also said they were worried about elk spreading hoof disease and causing highway collisions. Some large western Skagit County farmers reported they have stopped leasing land on the east side, according to the assessor’s office.

“We have lost some farmers to the elk,” Skagit County Farm Bureau President Bill Schmidt said. “It’s just not right, and we really have no relief.

“We have more elk every year, for several years now,” he said. “There has to be something done to get them off the valley floor.”

Fish and Wildlife and tribes have tried fences and hazing to move elk off agricultural land. Landowners can get a permit to shoot an elk, though it’s meant as a form of hazing, not population control.

Fish and Wildlife Regional Director Amy Windrope said the department staff will present a new elk-control plan to the Fish and Wildlife Commission at a meeting June 14 in Port Angeles.

Windrope said the plan, being developed with tribes, will target larger groups of elk on farmland, rather than what she called a “scatter-shot” approach.

Farmers can apply for compensation for damage to crops. The program requires farmers to assess damages, and provide business, tax and land records. The compensation program has been little used.

Thomas said it’s unknown how much elk intrusions are costing rural homeowners.

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