Tribes Minimize Elk Damage with Cost-Effective Fence

Assistant fisheries manager for Stillaguamish, Jeff Tatro, left, and Shawn Yanity, who is both chairman and fisheries manager for the tribe, attach a strand to an elk exclusion fence in Acme.
Assistant fisheries manager for Stillaguamish, Jeff Tatro, left, and Shawn Yanity, who is both chairman and fisheries manager for the tribe, help install an elk exclusion fence in Acme.

The Stillaguamish and Tulalip Tribes collaborated recently with a dairy farm in Acme to put up an elk exclusion fence to minimize pasture damage.

“They have serious damage issues on some of their properties,” said Jennifer Sevigny, wildlife biologist for the Stillaguamish Tribe. “There appear to be a lot of elk spending the majority of the year in and around their farm. This is one way as co-managers we can help address the problem.”

Property owners and farmers in Whatcom and Skagit counties have complained that the recovering Nooksack elk herd destroys fences and devours crops.

“Obviously, the elk want the best feed source, and that’s usually our field,” said Galen Smith, who operates Coldstream Farm with his father-in-law, Jeff Rainey. “We like the elk, but we have to manage them.”

Smith and Rainey, along with tribal staff, put up a three-strand electric fence around the 35-acre pasture. A white ribbon is visible to elk, and reportedly, once one elk gets shocked by the fence, the whole herd stays away.

“This is two days of work and costs about $4,000,” said Mike Sevigny, wildlife manager for Tulalip. “If this solves the problem, it’s a pretty economical fix.”

As many as 120 elk at time have threatened Coldstream’s pasture. “There are 15 bull elk around here right now,” Smith said in August. “We haven’t been able to put the field into corn because of the elk grazing. If we can change the elk’s pattern with this fence, then we can have corn.”

The tribes also plan to set up elk exclusion cages in a variety of agricultural areas to determine just how much the animals are eating. These cages will protect small portions of the pasture and will be compared to the surrounding area to measure elk forage. In addition, the wildlife managers can monitor elk that have been fitted with global positioning system (GPS) collars to see how they react to the electric fence.

More than 20 years ago, the Nooksack elk population in the North Cascades Mountains was about 1,700 elk. By 2003, the herd had declined to about 300 elk, largely because of degraded and disconnected habitat, as well as overharvest by non-Indian hunters.

Tribal and state wildlife managers agreed to stop hunting the herd in the 1990s, conducted numerous restoration projects and relocated about 100 cow elk from the Mount St. Helens region. According to 2012 population estimates, there were 1,250 to 1,400 Nooksack elk in the North Cascades.

For more information, contact: Jennifer Sevigny, biologist, Stillaguamish Tribe, 360-631-2372 or [email protected]; Mike Sevigny, wildlife manager, Tulalip Tribes, 360-716-4623 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, NWIFC, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].