SEQUIM - Reinforcements have been added to a select group of elk that play a key role in warning motorists when the Dungeness elk herd is crossing Highway 101 near here.
Working last week with the Clallam County Sheriff's Office and local volunteers, biologists for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) fit five more elk with radio-collars that activate flashing warning signs on the highway whenever the herd draws near.
The new recruits will take the place of three radio-equipped elk taken by hunters last fall, said Shelly Ament, the WDFW area wildlife biologist who pioneered the unique highway-warning system in 2000.
"We now have a total of nine working collars in the field, which is great," Ament said. "We really wanted to get some more elk collared up before the vehicle traffic picks up and the cows start moving across the highway more during calving season this summer."
Initially viewed as an experiment, the novel highway-warning system has helped to significantly reduce the number of elk-related vehicle accidents on the highway outside this Olympic Peninsula community, said Jack Smith, WDFW regional wildlife manager.
In the four years since the system was activated, there has been only one minor accident involving an elk along a three-mile stretch posted with radio-activated warning signs, Smith said. That compares to more than a dozen accidents in the years before the new warning system was installed.
"When motorists see the flashing yellow lights on the elk-crossing signs, they pay attention," Smith said. "That's important in an area where a herd of 75 elk is moving across the highway several times a day."