North Cascades Elk Management

The North Cascades Elk (Cervus canadensis) Herd (NCEH) is the smallest of ten herds formally recognized and managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and is the northernmost elk herd in western Washington. The herd resides in the Skagit, Nooksack, Samish, and Sauk river watersheds of Skagit and Whatcom counties.   

Skagit Valley bull elk in fog
Photo by WDFW

The herd is co-managed with the Point Elliott Treaty Tribes. Despite the herd’s relatively small size, it is an important resource providing recreational, aesthetic, and economic benefits to Washington residents. Tribal Co-managers value this elk herd as a significant cultural, subsistence, and ceremonial resource.

While hunting can be very challenging due to access constraints, special permit hunting opportunities in Game Management Units (GMU) 418 and 437 are prized by recreational hunters, typically requiring many years of application to draw.  

Learn about elk hunting regulations and seasons on this webpage. Or learn about tribal hunting, including a co-management agreement (PDF) with the Point Eliott Treaty Tribes.  

Management Summary

For many years, WDFW has contributed significant effort and resources to assist property owners with managing and preventing human-wildlife conflict issues. In areas the North Cascades elk herd frequents, WDFW staff have partnered with local landowners, Tribal Co-managers, non-governmental organizations, and others to mitigate human-elk conflicts in the Skagit Valley and nearby areas.  

Our objective is to reduce negative impacts and costs landowners, agriculture, and local communities incur, while respecting that elk are native to the North Cascades region, including the Skagit and Nooksack watersheds—naturally inhabit valley bottoms, especially during winter months—and are of significant value for hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, Tribal Co-managers, and many other Washingtonians. 

WDFW has funded full-time wildlife conflict staff to provide expert support and field assistance, assist landowners with fencing materials and installation, reimburse commercial producers for the costs of fertilizer, seed, and noxious weed control in areas disturbed by elk; offer hazing and other deterrents, deploy Master Hunters to properties where elk damage is greatest, and provide landowners with authority to remove elk using Damage and Kill Permits.  

We continually seek the appropriate balance between elk conflict management and conservation and are committed to working collaboratively with landowners, Tribal Co-managers, and others in this community. 

Electric fencing installed in Skagit Valley near Pressentin Road to deter elk.
Photo by WDFW
Electric fencing installed by WDFW and landowners near Concrete in the Skagit Valley to deter elk.

Elk herd population objective

WDFW and Tribal Co-managers conduct aerial surveys of the North Cascades Elk Herd (NCEH). The population estimate from the 2023 survey was 1,621 elk. The population objective from the 2018 herd plan is 1,700 - 2,000 elk.

Please see the links below for additional updates and survey reports.