SEQUIM (Feb. 6, 2006)– Moving the Sequim elk herd is the best way to save it from a slow death by development and help local farmers at the same time. That’s the conclusion the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Council reached at its January meeting.

“It’s disappointing that the city government and developers aren’t interested in being sensitive or responsible to wildlife needs,” said Ron Allen, tribal chairman for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. “This was not a comforting decision to make, but nobody else is stepping up to tackle this problem and we find ourselves taking the lead.”

“It’s clear from our review that the city of Sequim’s urban growth plan does not accommodate elk,” said Scott Chitwood, natural resources director for the tribe.

Sequim’s identity is linked to the iconic elk as evidenced by two metal bull elk sculptures at either end of the city limits on Highway 101. But elk have been squeezed out of most of their current range by rapid residential development within the city corridor. The herd rarely strays from a small area of farms north of town where they are causing extensive crop damage. “There’s nowhere for them to go,” said Jeremy Sage, wildlife biologist for the Point No Point Treaty Council. The treaty council is a natural resource management organization serving the Jamestown S’Klallam and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes.

The tribal recommendation for moving the herd is supported by the majority of representatives who make up the Dungeness Elk Working Team (DEWT), which consists of the tribe, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Clallam County, City of Sequim, Olympic National Forest and local landowners.

The transfer recommendation was based on the herd’s behavior and an examination of development trends in the valley for the past several years. “Most of this year’s elk calves were born around farmer’s fields to the north of the city rather than in the forests farther south, as they had traditionally been in years past,” said Sage. “In their present state, they have very little experience with predators like cougars and little knowledge of what a forest is like. That makes the safety of the fields all the more attractive to them.” The farmers are rarely fully compensated for elk damage by the state, which allows compensation if they allow hunting on their property. “That just drives farmers closer to subdividing and selling their land,” said Sage.

Sequim farmer Gary Smith, who supports moving the herd, has experienced significant crop damage from elk. Historically, he only saw the elk in his fields in late summer and then incidentally throughout the winter. Each spring, the elk used to move south across the increasingly congested Highway 101 to reach a forest where calves were born. At that time, damage to farmer’s crops was minor.

But, over the past 18 months, the herd’s behavior changed. Most of the elk stayed in farmers’ fields and, in Smith’s case, ate a hybrid cauliflower seed crop valued at $25,000 and caused another $24,000 in damage to other crops “Farming is marginal as it is. Those seed crops are what keep us viable,” said Smith.

Efforts to scare the elk away have failed. “The elk have figured out they can eat and reproduce well without fear of predators or cars here. This new behavior isn’t likely to change now,” said Smith. “As development continues, using hunting to control the size of the herd will become less of an option because of safety concerns.”

Moving the elk could be more than a year away. WDFW will schedule a public meeting on the topic in March, and then weigh in with their preferred alternative.

The best place to relocate the herd has yet to be determined. A way to pay for the transfer must be found and several assessments will be necessary to find the most appropriate spot.

In the future, it’s possible the only elk a visitor to Sequim will see is the highway elk sculptures. Their creator, Oliver Strong, was also forced out of Sequim, albeit by U.S. Immigration officials who found that he and his family had overstayed their visa.

“We’re trying to find a reasonable and affordable solution to this clash of nature and a growing society. We have to find room in our society for the elk too,” said Allen.


For more information, contact: W. Ron Allen, Chairman, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, (360)683-1109, Scott Chitwood, natural resources director, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, (360) 683-1109; Jeremy Sage, wildlife biologist, Point No Point Treaty Council, (360) 297-3422; Debbie Preston, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 374-5501