Did you know that in addition to protecting and studying the elk in our area, the Upper Snoqualmie Valley Elk Management Group (USVEMG) also protects and keeps all of us safe?
Wildlife fencing was installed between exits 27 and 31 in 1976 to complement two wildlife crossing structures built during freeway construction. This fencing was installed to protect you and large animals from dangerous car collisions. One of the worst accidents in our state history that killed four people was due to elk crossing the freeway just east of North Bend.
Thanks to our own Upper Snoqualmie Valley Elk Management Group’s (USVEMG) efforts to maintain the fencing, the number of elk & deer vs. vehicle accidents was significantly reduced when the group had a large enough membership to repair the aging fence.
Unfortunately, those numbers have started to rise again in the area where USVEMG maintains the fence. Damage occurs when trees fall during bad weather, the homeless breach the fences to access places they wish to camp, hunters cut the fences to avoid carrying their harvests the long way around back to their cars, and sometimes homeowners cut the fence, whatever the reason is, having the fence in bad repair puts us all in danger when driving that stretch of I-90.
Covid-19 had a significant impact on the Elk Management Group. In 2019, the group had around 80 members. After the pandemic in 2022, their numbers have dwindled to 20. They need more members to help do all the good things they do for the valley.
Elk that were indigenous to the Snoqualmie Valley area were Roosevelt elk. They were hunted to extinction by our early settlers by the early 1900s. Now they occur in the Coast Range, the Olympic Range and other areas west of Interstate 5, with the largest population being in Olympic National Park and numbering around 5,000.
In 1913 the Seattle Elk Club paid for and engineered the introduction of Rocky Mountain elk from Yellowstone Park in Montana. They exploded in population but hit hard times after World War II – leaving the valley without elk. (Read the whole story here.) Fortunately, a few animals survived, and by the early 1990s, the Snoqualmie Valley again saw elk.
By 2008 our elk population had exploded and was becoming a local nuisance. The Department of Fish and Wildlife was getting many calls about property damage. So, in cooperation with Valley hunting and timber interests, the Elk Management Group was formed.
So, what exactly does the group do to help the elk population?
There are an estimated 420 to 450 elk at any given time in the Upper Snoqualmie Valley. In the past, the USVEMG would take a census each year between March and April to confirm those numbers. They worked with a wildlife biologist to collar elk during this time to help track their movement and report their findings to the divisional wildlife department.
Those numbers helped fish and wildlife decide the number of tags issued during hunting season and assisted with research and education. However, the census work is no longer needed, and the collaring is on hold for the foreseeable future leaving the group available for other essential tasks.
In addition to the work repairing the I-90 fence, the USVEMG also created a habitat of 70 plus acres of early seral stage habitat in the Middle Fork drainage called the CCC Flats Passive Elk Habitat Enhancement Area. It was created because these outskirt areas had a poorer habitat than areas within the valley – and for economic and safety reasons, it is better for the elk to stay away from populated areas.
This area encompassed about 50 acres of old logging roads that had grown over and provided no light. USVEMG cleared about 30-foot wide areas ditch line to ditch line width and over about 4 miles of roads. This was a benefit to all wildlife in the area and now deer, elk, bear and many species now call this home.
The Enhancement Area was seeded and cleared to make it a place that elk would want to go to and stay – and keep them away from areas where they could damage or be damaged. They have other seeding projects, and volunteers will be needed to keep that program going.
In addition, the USVEMG works with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to distribute poached elk meat to food banks and others in need in the Snoqualmie Valley.
Lastly, there are plans for new warning signs in the areas with elk to warn motorists to take extra care when the elk are present.
What can we do to help the USVEMG?
The biggest thing you can do to help is to join the group. Membership sign-up is on their website, only $10 for a year. The group also needs three board positions filled, a new secretary and a People & Land Director.
The bonus is if you join the Upper Valley Elk Management Group, you’ll get notices of meetings, hear about their projects and be the first to know when guest speakers come to meetings to talk about wolves, wildlife bridges & habitat connectivity and many other outdoor relayed topics.
If none of that appeals to you, there is a donate button on their website. According to the website, you can donate for all sorts of reasons, but isn’t the biggest reason to help ensure the safety of everyone who drives that stretch of I-90 daily?
The next elk management group meeting is at 7 pm, Tuesday, June 21st at the Meadowbrook Interpretive Center in North Bend. Everyone is welcome to come to check them out and join!