(Photo by Duck Paterson)

(Photo by Duck Paterson)

Roosevelt Elk disrupt highway traffic near Ladysmith

RCMP control traffic as onlookers observe unusual herd

By Duck Paterson

Last weekend motorists driving the highway just north of Ladysmith could be excused if they felt they were travelling through the Banff Rocky Mountain area. The reason for that feeling was the herd of elk that appeared over the weekend on the fields at Misty Valley Farms. The farm, located at the junction of the Island Highway and Cedar Road, just south of the airport, is usually the home of 125 beef cattle but it turned out to be the home of over 30 Rosevelt Elk during the weekend.

The herd first appeared in the field the farm uses for growing feed corn but the next day moved into the farm’s thumb field just north of Brenton Page Road.

“This was quite a surprise as we’ve only ever had one elk in the fields and that was over 25 years ago,” said Howie Davis, owner of Misty Valley Farms. “We have heard there were elk around but that was over the highway towards the end of Takala Road. This was not only a surprise to all the motorists but it was a huge surprise to my wife and me. In all the years we’ve lived here and cleared all that property, we’ve never seen anything like this! We’ve had lots of deer and even bears but never elk.”

On Sunday the RCMP had to supply vehicles and officers to control traffic on the highway, as a large number of cars, in both directions, were pulling over to have a view. B.C. Conservation service had personnel on the scene, on both Saturday and Sunday, to assess the situation. While the officers were parked on the side of the highway, with their warning flashers operating, a lot of motorists ignored the regulations to slow down for emergency vehicles. The RCMP issued numerous tickets for traffic infractions as drivers ignored speed and attention regulations.

“The RCMP that were on the scene Saturday had to put down one of the animals as it was evident that it had been injured by a vehicle, probably as the animals had crossed the highway a few days earlier,” said Stuart Bates, BC Conservation officer for the area. He said on Sunday another animal had to be put down as its lower jaw had been shot off and its chances of survival were slim.

“This herd is one of two in the area. A larger herd split and there are now two groups, one that is in Spruston Road area and this one, which is located mostly at the end of Takala Road,” Bates said. “With the early heavy snow it’s likely that this herd moved down in search of food and the farm looked really good to them.”

According to Environment B.C., except for a small herd in the Phillips Arm area, which probably migrated from Vancouver Island, and recently introduced herds near Sechelt and Powell River, the only Roosevelt Elk in British Columbia are the 3,000 to 3,500 members of the subspecies that live on Vancouver Island. The coastal Roosevelt Elk tend to occur in fairly small scattered herds, each one confined to a major river valley where low-elevation early seral forests as well as riparian, floodplain, wetland and estuarine meadow habitats provide winter-spring forage. In summer, most Roosevelt herds migrate upward to subalpine meadows and avalanche tracks, but a few stay year-round on valley-bottom ranges.

“I hope they decide to go home before spring as I need my fields to grow my own feed for my animals and I can’t afford to lose any,” Davis said.

Bates said the Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources will be keeping an eye on the herd and their biologists will look at how or when the animals will return to their regular grazing areas.