State and feds killing elk to shrink Skagit Valley herd

DAY CREEK, Wash. -- Nearly 1,700 wild elk have been driving local farmers crazy, knocking down fences and eating their crops.

The problem is so big that the federal and state government has sent in hunters to kill 15 of the animals.

State wildlife officials and farmers have been dealing with this elk problem for decades. But it’s even harder on the farmers in the valley, especially those who are just starting out.

The Haney Farm in Day Creek has so far survived the roaming elk but their neighbors aren’t so lucky.

“The elk have destroyed six acres of the neighbor’s potatoes,” said Bobbie Lane at Haney Farm. “I’ve seen them out in the field eating the potatoes. I’ve seen them three at a time.”

Lane said she’s watched state hunters wander her property looking for the herd.

“I don’t mind the elk, but if they’re destroying the neighbor’s potatoes, that’s their cash crop, that is a problem,” added Lane.

Federal and state officers, plus tribal hunters, have killed four bulls in the past few days and they’re authorized to kill up to 15. It’s part of a short-term plan to reduce the numbers of elk in the Skagit River Valley.

The elk live a pretty good life on the valley floor where there’s lots of food and few predators.

“We’re tried to utilize state hunters, and tribal hunters as well, as damage permits in this one area,” said Russell Link with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The animal’s behavior in this area has changed as a result of that. These animals have gone nocturnal. In order to bring the damage down to an acceptable level, we’ve had to go in there at night and remove four animals.”

The state issues some elk hunting permits to farmers to try to help thin the herd.

The meat from the four dead bulls has been given to local tribal food banks.