Elk ate an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 pounds of blueberries this season at a large farm in northwest Washington, according to farm managers.
The elk damaged about 40 acres of the 650-acre Golden Eagle Farms on Cockerham Island, according to farm official Michele Cherchi. Fencing off the fields would be impractical, he said.
“It’s a large area,” Cherchi said Thursday.
Elk in the North Cascades herd, also known as the Nooksack herd, have moved onto agricultural land in eastern Skagit County over the past several years. The Department of Fish and Wildlife says it’s working to reduce agricultural damage by building fences, increasing hunting and issuing permits to shoot elk on farmland.
Farmers, however, report their losses are continuing. The county assessor’s office is conducting a yearlong assessment of elk damage to agriculture. The assessor estimates damages could total $1.4 million annually. A Fish and Wildlife commissioner said recently the “situation was out of hand.”
Cherchi said the elk also damaged plants, though they can be saved by pruning. The farm has not estimated its dollar losses, he said. The USDA reported that Washington grown blueberries fetched an average of 98 cents a pound.
Elk last year ate shoots on 10 acres of blueberries about to come into production, according to Golden Eagle.
Farm site manager Wilhelm Gutierrez said elk come into fields nearest a forest. Farmworkers saw one group of about 25 elk and another group of about 40 elk on a recent morning, he said.
Workers on four-wheelers chase the elk away, but the animals return the next day, Gutierrez said.
The farm recently inquired for the first time about obtaining a permit from Fish and Wildlife to shoot one elk to discourage the herd from coming back. The permit was still being arranged, Cherchi said.
The farm has installed cameras to learn more about where the elk are coming from, but Cherchi said the farm has no way to keep them out. “Right now, we don’t know what to do.”
Golden Eagle Farm is owned by the Aquilini Investment Group, based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Fish and Wildlife, in partnership with nine Native American tribes, enlarged the herd over the past two decades by limiting hunting and transporting elk from the Mount St. Helens area. The department is due to report to lawmakers in September on its efforts to minimize elk on farmland.