The Great ‘Elk Drive’ Of Snohomish County

UPDATED 2 P.M., MARCH 12, 2018

It was 106 years ago yesterday that a panicked herd of more than four dozen elk were turned loose in the Skykomish Valley around Startup.

They’d been “obtained” by the Snohomish County Game Commission and were meant to stock the Sultan Basin.


Five subsequently died in the corral they were being held in before being hauled in covered wagons to another enclosure in the basin, and according to a March 13, 1912, article in the Olympia Daily Recorder, another 11 had succumbed on the way from Gardiner, Montana.

Apparently, the release was big doin’s, attended by commissioners and folks who came upvalley from Everett.

“The frightened animals tore madly around the corral after being unloaded,” the paper reported.

My mom stumbled on the article while doing genealogy research on relatives who had lumber operations in the valley in the early 1900s (we also lived in nearby Sultan when I was a kid growing up).

Another she found from early 1916 provided an update on the herd.

“They were given rigid protection, they multiplied rapidly, and it wasn’t long before they had become so friendly that they were a positive nuisance,” reported the Seattle Daily Times.

Driven out of the Sultan Basin by snow, the elk in particular liked the pear orchard of a Startup rancher by the name of Bob Miller.

He was not pleased and threatened to take matters into his own hands if something wasn’t done.

So on Feb. 5, Snohomish County saw its “first ‘elk drive'” — and possibly its last — as Game Warden Miller, along with a pair of deputies and a pack of dogs did their best to herd the elk away.

Alas, it didn’t work.

“As soon as it was dark the elk came sneaking back. The Snohomish County Game Commission is considering what step to take next,” the Times reported.

It’s a result that wouldn’t be unknown to fish and wildlife officers and WDFW conflict specialists today who use a range of tricks and tactics to try and keep elk out of crops. Feeding them on Central Washington winter range is another way to limit ag damage.

A draft WDFW Nooksack elk herd plan from 2000 reports that, ultimately, the Startup release “failed” and lists “poaching” as a cause.

A similar 1912 effort in the Skagit Valley sputtered, but one of 80 animals in King County was successful.

Still, every now and then you hear of an elk or two roaming Snohomish County, mainly along the Skykomish River not far from Gold Bar.

And while hunting blacktail elsewhere in the county last fall, a friend got a pretty strong whiff of what he feels was wapiti.

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