(Photo by Duck Paterson)

(Photo by Duck Paterson)

Wandering Roosevelt elk disrupt highway traffic near Ladysmith

RCMP control traffic as onlookers observe unusual herd, likely driven down by snow in search of food

By Duck Paterson

Motorists driving the highway just north of Ladysmith last week could be excused if they felt they had made a wrong turn into Banff.

An unexpected herd of about 30 Roosevelt elk slowed traffic after appearing at the junction of the Island Highway and Cedar Road, just south of the Nanaimo Airport, in a field Misty Valley Farms uses for growing feed corn for its 125 beef cattle.

“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 Jan. 2, the RCMP had to dispatch traffic control due to a large number of cars pulling over to have a view. B.C. Conservation service had personnel on the scene. 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, most of them north of Campbell River.

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.