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Tule Elk Won’t Stay In The Tules

You think hitting a deer is bad? Try hitting an elk. Laytonville County Water District Manager (and editor of the Mendocino Observer weekly newspaper in Laytonvile) Jim Shields at the County’s General Government meeting on Monday, March 21:

Shields: In the last five or six weeks, water district personnel including myself on a number of occasions have had to initiate traffic stops on Highway 101 North of Willits approximately one mile south of Laytonville. There are two ranches involved, the 101 Ranch and another about a mile further south on Highway 101, the Shamrock Ranch. I have a small ranch right next to the 101 Ranch. When we moved there originally about 30 years ago there was a sizable elk herd on the 101 Ranch that was relocated as I recall in the late 80s or early 90s to the Shamrock Ranch. The elk which were relocated to the Shamrock Ranch in the last two years have started migrating north along Highway 101 and back up to the original 101 Ranch plus the additional ranches nearby on that mile and a half stretch. I have personally, along with other district personnel -- and this is only have been at night which is the worst time -- the elk are crossing Highway 101 from the 101 Ranch to the ranches on the east side of Highway 101. Fortunately, on those times that I have had to do it or when other personnel have had to do it we are either at work or we had our safety gear and flashlights and traffic signs and so forth so we could actually stop traffic. I don't believe that so far there has been an accident. But as far as I'm concerned there is a public safety concern and wildlife safety concern. We have contacted the Caltrans right-of-way division about posting some signs in the area. But as you are probably aware it takes an act of Congress to get anything done by Caltrans. But we are attempting that. The water district would appreciate any assistance the County Board of Supervisors could offer. We are afraid that there is going to be a serious accident on the highway. We are not talking about a gravel road here.

Supervisor Carre Brown: Absolutely. We have 20 head of Tule elk on Potter Valley Road which is a two way road only. We have had some very upset people. Who is liable? The County of Mendocino has some elk signs. We have put some of them up in Potter Valley to try to alert people that they may go around one of those corners, not so straight like Highway 101, and run smack dab into a herd. Obviously I'm really worried a fatality could result. If you're in a small car and you swerve and you go over the side or down the cliff to the Russian River it could be… Yeah!

Shields: The count in that stretch of about one mile and a half south of Laytonville near Highway 101 could be in the hundreds.The herds have spread and segregated themselves along that mile and a half and there is a certain concentration at times down by Davidson and Steele Lane. All these properties front Highway 101. That's near the area where Highway 101 goes from four lanes to two lanes. There is a lot of activity with elk crossing south of Laytonville.

One Comment

  1. Frank Hartzell April 2, 2016

    Great story. I had no idea there were this many. Is there really such a thing as a Tule Elk? I did a series of stories on this years ago. Some biologists say the species was hunted down to extinction. The ones you see today are Roosevelt. Others say one single pair of tule elk was left and those we see today are their descendants. A very noted biologist, John Cowan, a WWII pilot and former manager of Gray Lodge, told me this “Adam and Eve” elk story was apocryphal. The pair found were actually Roosevelt Elk someone claimed to be Tule elk. With DNA today, there should be no mystery today.? I know this stuff doesn’t help the folks dealing with this huge, beautiful and somewhat scary animals, but its one of those things I have always wondered about— about once a year!

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