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Public divided on elk herd management

Are they tanks of destruction or tender icons of Sequim?

Further, should they stay in Sequim with increased management or should they be fenced out of town?

Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife staff sat down with about 40 residents of the Sequim area July 30 to discuss three options that would fence the Sequim-Dungeness Roosevelt elk herd out of Sequim, but ended up hearing from an audience split between whether or not to have a fence at all.

People living south of U.S. Highway 101 either welcomed an increased concentration of elk or warned of increased destruction to the area from the antlered ungulates.

Roger and Tracy Blume said they like the elk but increased density would cause too much damage to their property in the Happy Valley area while Joan and Chuz Sawyer said they would love to see the elk more and welcomed them to the area.

Then, those living north of the highway either asked for a fence to ease the destruction they are presently experiencing or asked that the elk remain in town as an iconic representation of Sequim.

Many local farmers have spoken in support of keeping the elk from their fields. However, Frank Roach, who lives on the Gierin Farm, offered his land as forage for the animals should the fence option be dropped in the future.

"In the long term we need a management plan that effectively makes roads in the city safer, stops economic loss to farmers from foraging and gives the elk a place to live and thrive for years to come," said Jack Smith, Washington State Fish and Wildlife Olympic Region manager, indicating he hopes to maintain safer viewing and hunting options.

"We've reviewed many options to manage these guys and a fence seems to be one of the best ones at this point."

The agency looked at relocating the herd about two years ago but was met with an angry crowd twice the size of the one that showed up for the fencing meeting.



Options

Smith outlined three fencing plans.

The first option puts the fence on the south side of U.S. Highway 101 and would run from Blyn to near Carlsborg. It likely would be the least expensive because of easements already owned by the Washington Department of Transportation.

"The downside of option one is that it cuts through the city and leaves urban areas south of the fence where the elk would be," Smith said.

The second option is shorter. It runs along the highway west from Louella Road, then south on Simdars Road into the woods and state Department of Natural Resources land. It is estimated to cost $6 million for construction and the acquisition of private land easements. This option would wrap around the 45 acres of passive parkland the city recently acquired from the Keeler family.

"Cost is a big factor in the second option," Smith said. "But we try to get behind private property as much as possible to limit the number of road crossings and cattle guards we would have to deal with."

The third option would install a very short fence, which would start at Louella Road on the highway and would cut directly west through the backsides of private property to Palo Alto Road or Johnson Creek Road. The cost would be about $3 million.

All the options would include practices to increase forage plants for the elk south of the highway.

"These are tentative plans and if one went forward it may end up a little different than what you see on the map," Smith said. "Plus, when we finish up a final strategy it would be in time for budgeting season."

The department already has submitted an early budget request, but Smith said there is no guarantee the Legislature will decide to fund an elk fence. The department presently spends about $100,000 a year on elk management.



Reactions

Rather than discuss any of the fencing options, most people at the meeting talked about whether or not fencing was a good idea at all.

"The fences don't solve the elk problem, they move the problem south and make my neighborhood more inundated with elk," Roger Blume said. "If you fence them off, you should make them stay up in the hills."

Blume said damage to his property falls through the cracks because he is not a commercial food grower who can receive compensation for damage from elk.

Smith said the third fence option closely resembles what Blume asked for, however many spoke out against taking the elk away from Sequim.

"It appears to me the biggest problem is crop damage since the elk crossing signs were put in, so why don't we fence the farms?" Sequim City Councilor Susan Lorenzen said, speaking as an individual. "People in Sequim and visitors show up in droves to see the elk when they are in the town's prairies and to take that away would take away the town's icon and identity."

Roach offered his land as forage for the elk if they end up staying in Sequim.

"We welcome the elk now and we will continue to welcome them in the future, they don't cause that much damage," Roach said. "What we are missing is whether or not to fence out developers."

Smith said a final recommendation and request for money from the Legislature likely would be formed sometime in late October. If the department gets funding for the fence, the earliest opportunity to finalize its route would be July 2009.





The public can send comments on the three proposed Sequim-Dungeness Roosevelt elk fencing plans to Jack Smith, Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife, 48 Devonshire Road, Montesano, WA 98563.



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