Two early July meetings in Bellingham and Mount Vernon will offer citizens an opportunity to learn more and share suggestions on a proposal to augment the dwindling North Cascades elk herd with 50 animals from the Mount St. Helens area.
The meetings will take place July 1 in Bellingham, in Room 103 of Syre Student Center at Whatcom Community College, and July 2 in Mount Vernon, in Hearing Room B of the Mount Vernon Courthouse. Both sessions will run from 7 to 9 p.m. A similar public meeting was held last March in Toutle, near the area where the elk would be collected.
In the meetings, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) staff will review relocation plans, collect public feedback and answer questions.
Under the relocation proposal, wildlife biologists would capture a total of 75 to 100 elk on the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area over the coming two years and transport them to several release sites along the South Fork of the Nooksack River. Between 40 and 50 of the animals would be relocated this September or October.
"These public meetings help us ensure that there are no fatal flaws in the proposal, and offer a forum for ideas to increase the success of the project," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. "Public input and review guided us in developing the North Cascades Elk Herd plan, and we want to continue that public process with additional input and review as we move forward to implement the plan."
The elk relocation is proposed as a means of augmenting the North Cascades herd. Herd augmentation is among several measures outlined in the WDFW herd management plan to bolster the dwindling herd. The herd management plan, completed in March 2002, can be viewed on the WDFW website.
Elk relocation is considered in situations where there have been significant herd declines, population numbers remain below objectives despite other efforts such as hunting restrictions or closures, and habitat can support additional animals.
The North Cascades herd, which ranges between Mount Baker and the Skagit River Valley, has declined from more than 1,700 elk in 1984 to about 300 animals currently, making it the smallest of the state's 10 elk herds. The herd management plan sets a population objective of 1,450.
To help the herd rebuild, state and tribal cooperators eliminated hunting in the mid-1990s in some areas, including the locations where the elk would be released. Although loss of habitat-especially in low elevations-has taken a toll on the herd population, restoration efforts in recent years by volunteers, and private, state and tribal entities have improved habitat conditions.
Supplementing the North Cascades herd could bring the elk population back to harvestable levels within five years, as opposed to the 20 or more years required without augmentation, according to wildlife biologists.
Mount St. Helens elk, the proposed source of animals for the North Cascades herd, have increased markedly after the mountain's eruption in 1980. While the blast created prime elk habitat over a large area, maturing trees have gradually reduced the amount of available forage. In recent years, elk have died from winter starvation at a higher-than-expected rate in the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area, where up to 400 animals winter. Several years ago, 79 animals died in a particularly harsh winter, while this year's toll was about a dozen animals.
To improve winter conditions for the St. Helens herd, WDFW and volunteer groups have been working to increase forage by planting and fertilizing forage vegetation and removing invasive Scotch broom.
The number of elk contemplated for relocation from the Mount St. Helens herd is not large enough to adversely affect the overall herd population, according to wildlife biologists.
The $50,000 cost of the relocation would be shared jointly by WDFW and participating treaty tribes.
Click here for more information on the Mount St. Helens - North Cascades elk transfer.