Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 13, 2001 - Issue 27



Elk That Call Ahead Can Cross Highway


by Timothy Egan Sequim Journal

SEQUIM, Wash. - Led by females, a large herd of Roosevelt elk has been abandoning the colder, higher reaches of the Olympic Mountains in search of mild weather and year-round foliage here in the maritime splendor of the Dungeness Valley.

Led by retirees, people have also been abandoning habitats of colder, more hostile terrain in search of temperate climate and year-round gardening, making this valley one of the fastest-growing areas in the West.

The forces of nature and demographics clash with violent finality on the main road just outside the town of Sequim (pronounced skwim). In the past five years, a dozen elk have been killed by motorists. And as a new freeway was completed this year, replacing the old road, the question was whether the herd and the highway could ever coexist.

As Sequimites gripped themselves for new rounds of Winnebagos versus wapiti, as elk are known to the Indians of the Olympic Peninsula, suggestions poured in on how to protect the animals.

One idea was to construct a fence along the four-mile length of the new road but the cost was deemed prohibitive. Another suggestion was to scare the herd away from the lowlands where the road was built, using dogs or people riding loud all-terrain vehicles. Elk- chasing was deemed inhumane.

Finally, a biologist for the State of Washington, Shelly Ament, came up with an idea to wire the elk with radio transmitting collars and create what is believed to be the world's first interactive elk crossing.

About one in 10 elk, leaders of the herd or those most likely to be involved in mating, were equipped with radio collars, which have a three-year battery life and are used to keep track of all sorts of wild creatures, from wolves to grizzly bears. The difference with this collar is that it emits a signal when the elk come within about a quarter mile of the new section of U. S. 101. This signal sets off flashing warning lights on roadside signs with pictures of elk and the words: ELK X-ING.

The idea is that motorists will slow down once the lights flash, sparing fender and fur.

Collisions of thousand-pound elk and 4,000-pound sport utility vehicles have favored the S.U.V.'s, but Sequim police have long expressed concern that some person might get seriously injured in one of the smashups.

Nearly half a year into the experiment in elk traffic engineering, the verdict is positive for man and beast.

"I'm very encouraged," said Jack Smith, the state wildlife supervisor for the Olympic Peninsula. "There are a lot of people in the Sequim area who like having the elk around, and this gives them and us hope that they can
live with each other."

Only a single animal has been killed since the herd was equipped with radio collars.

"Some people, no matter what you do, are just never going to pay attention," Mr. Smith said. "But this is a better ratio than we had going into the experiment."

The elk, of course, have been foraging in this valley since well before Wal-Mart or legions of orthopedic surgeons and other specialists set sights on the retirement haven of Sequim.

The valley of 10,000 people on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula, about two hours by ferry and car from Seattle, is usually the driest town on the Pacific Coast north of San Diego. Pilots call this area the blue hole, for its perpetual sunshine; some years Sequim receives barely 15 inches of rain, while forests 60 miles to the west can get 10 times that amount.
The mountains that block Pacific storms have also nurtured the world's largest population of Roosevelt elk, cinnamon-colored ungulates who roam the rich, lowland valleys of the Olympics. The animals are named for Theodore Roosevelt, who took up the elk's cause after they were nearly hunted to extinction by people who valued the teeth for watch fobs.

The Olympic elk are healthy and plentiful now, Mr. Smith said. But, as with wildlife over much of the rest of the country, they face pressure from the advancing flank of urbanization.

Elk consume 10 percent of their body weight every day in food. In winter, they used to graze primarily on grass, willow branches and assorted forms of fibrous woody snacks in the flats of the Dungeness Valley, while in the warm months they headed for the high country in the Olympics.

But this herd has taken a year- round liking to the valley, and to the impressive gardens of rhododendrons, lavender and fruit trees in people's big backyards.

"Now, if only we could figure out a way to keep the elk out of the landscaping," Mr. Smith said.

Print and Color your own elk picture


The mission of the Elk Foundation is to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.


Elk (Cervus elaphus) are the most abundant large mammal found in Yellowstone; paleontological evidence confirms their continuous presence for at least 1,000 years
Yellowstone Elk




  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.