We’re lucky to occasionally see Roosevelt elk (Cervus elaphus roosevelti) at our Sky Meadow Ranch, near Douglas City. Herds of these magnificent animals once ranged from San Francisco to British Columbia, and from the Pacific Ocean to the summit of the Cascade Mountain. Today their range is limited to the northernmost California counties, up through western Oregon and Washington, to Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Once Nearly Extinct
During the 1850s, as people poured into California for the Gold Rush, elk were heavily hunted for their meat as well as well as for tallow and hides. By the 1890s, elk were being hunted merely for their “tusks” (upper canine teeth), which sold for as much as $20 a pair (over $500 in today’s dollars). Hunting became so heavy by 1905, that statewide hunting restrictions were put in place. In 1925, the number of Roosevelt elk in California were estimated to be as few as 15. One of the last elk herds was located in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Humboldt County. Fortunately, protection of habitat in the park and surrounding areas allowed our elk population to rebound to more than 1,000 animals.
Elk are the second largest members of the deer family (moose are larger). Adult males weigh 740-1,100 pounds; females weigh 380-640 pounds. Mature males boast large multi-branched antlers, while the shorter antlers of young males (called spikes) are usually unbranched.
Threats to Survival
Biologists believe that road kills and poaching are the major causes of death for elk in this area. You can reduce this problem by driving at or below the speed limit and watching for wildlife along the roads.
Although elk occasionally spend time in the forests and can sometimes be seen on the beach, they prefer open grasslands. Thus, the protection and maintenance of grassland habitats, such as our ranch affords, are extremely important. Currently, park managers are using methods such as prescribed burning and tree removal to reopen and maintain grasslands. Fire benefits elk because the nutritional quality of the grasses increases considerably after the burn. Biologists also suspect that burning grasslands may reduce parasites that are harmful to elk.