By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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The herd of 26 cows and calves moved south from its winter feeding grounds in the valley to near 101 this week, prompting the Clallam County Sheriff's Office to issue an advisory to motorists Wednesday that the herd may try to cross the highway.
Tim Cullinan, wildlife coordinator for the Point No Point Treaty Council, said the herd was in a field at the end of Keeler Road near the highway Wednesday morning but had headed for the cover of the woods around Johnson Creek, about a quarter-mile northeast of the highway, later in the afternoon.
Cullinan predicted they would use the light of a bright moon Wednesday night to feed in fields.
They may try to cross the road this morning, he said.
“But there really isn't any way to tell what they're going to do next,” he said.
Cullinan tracks the herd, which has been moving more than usual the past couple of months, using radio collars to monitor their health and population.
They had spent the previous day in a field off West Sequim Bay Road in east Sequim.
Cullinan said the herd had been in the dense woods near the Olympic Discovery Trail on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
The Clallam County Sheriff's Office said motorists driving between Simdars Road and Sequim Bay Lodge — as well as bicyclists on the trail — should stay alert for elk.
While not fully sure of the herd's destination, Cullinan said that the elk's movement from the fields in the Dungeness Valley could mean that the animals are preparing to migrate south to fields in the hills off Palo Alto Road and in the Happy Valley, which means they would have to cross the highway.
“The last time they did this, they just kind of went down to the woods around Johnson Creek, hung out for a bit and went back north,” Cullinan said.
“But they could start to head south for the hills.”
Since discovering lush winter forage in the Dungeness Valley farm fields about 10 years ago, Cullinan said, the herd tended to stay north until about April, when it migrated to the foothills, staying there until as late as Thanksgiving.
A separate pack of male bulls lives primarily year-round in the southern foothills, Cullinan said.
Over the past two years, though, the herd has spent only a couple weeks in the hills, Cullinan said.
He noted, though, that 2011 and 2012 had long, wet, cold springs.
This year's early spring temperatures in the area trend to a warmer spring, which could mean the herd is preparing to migrate to the southern foothills for a while.
Cullinan said he thought the current size of the cow-and-calf herd is about the smallest it has ever been.
Earlier this year, the herd spent the better part of a week in the Sequim area, just north of the highway. The elk then retreated to the northern farmground.
The herd's movements have prompted Sheriff's Office alerts since December.
In the past year, 10 elk have been killed in hunts ordered by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in an effort to discourage the herd from destroying planted crops in the valley.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.