The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe has established a temporary feeding program for the White River elk herd, to prevent mass starvation caused by inability to find food following this year’s recordbreaking snowfall. “We know that elk are having a hard time this winter,” said Dennis Anderson Sr., chairman of the tribe’s Wildlife Committee. “The point of this feeding operation is to help the elk herds survive until the snow melts.”
“This herd is already in trouble. One hard winter can do a lot of damage to a small herd,” Anderson said. The size of the White River elk herd has declined in recent years from 1,700 to 550 animals due to many factors, including loss of habitat. Last spring, the herd rebounded to about 700 elk, but that is still well below the population objective of around 1,000 elk.
“These elk are not only having a hard time finding food, the snow is so deep in some spots that they’re having a hard time even moving around,” Anderson said. Near Huckleberry Creek, the snow is more than 3 feet deep.
The project involves hauling 66 tons of alfalfa to more than a dozen remote sites throughout the upper White River for four straight weeks. Contributions from the Upper Skagit, Swinomish and Tulalip tribes, as well as Hancock Timber, which manages much of the property where most of the elk live, have offset the food bill.
The Muckleshoot Tribe has also closed ceremonial hunting on the herd and asked that all tribes do the same. “We only took a few male elk each winter, for memorials and funerals,” Anderson said. “But we recognize that even that would be too much this year.”
The tribe will conduct a population survey in the spring to estimate the herd size. “Hopefully, we will find that fewer elk died than would have otherwise,” Anderson said.
“Having healthy elk herds is a top priority for the Muckleshoot Tribe, because we have always depended on the health of our natural resources,” Anderson said. “We are happy that so many have
joined us to protect the health of this herd.”