Idaho wildlife officials recently made a grim discovery at the base of a steep slope south of Lewiston: an elk boneyard.
“All of this is elk, at least 15 heads,” says Fish and Game senior wildlife technician Mark Shepard in a video as he pans around the rocky slope covered in femurs, backbones, skulls, spines and fur. “Looks like a landslide, but it’s hard to tell. A lot of broken legs.”
Agency officials were led to the location at Craig Mountain by a mortality signal from a radio-collared animal earlier in the year.
At the scene they found three more collars, but which elk they belonged to was impossible to say.
“I’m sure some scavenging, but with so many bones, hard to say which ones go to which collar,” says Shepard.
In a followup IDFG post, he writes, “With scree material and boulders up to the size of beach balls, it appeared that at least 15 elk were traversing and side hilling near the top of a ridgeline only to be caught up in a landslide. Bringing them down almost 1,000 feet over just a distance of 300-400 yards, this group of elk was caught up in rubble and snow ultimately resulting in death.”
The unfortunate loss is similar to the deaths of 19 elk discovered on Oregon’s Broken Top in mid-summer 2018. The animals had apparently been crossing the Central Cascades mountain when a slab avalanche broke loose and buried them, probably in the snowy winter of 2016-17.
In days long gone by, Native Americans used to stampede bison over cliffs, places called “pishkuns” or buffalo jumps, to harvest them.
“Natural events such as avalanches and rock slides often occur without being observed and it is generally unknown how these events influence wildlife,” writes IDFG’s Shepard. “This event provides evidence that natural events such as this can influence a wildlife population. Collars placed on multiple species across the state over the span of months and years, allow Idaho Department of Fish and Game to inform management decisions on preserving, protecting, and perpetuating wildlife for continued use and enjoyment of the public.”