Hungry herds of elk are devouring the fields of the Skagit Valley. About 1,200 head have done an estimated $1 million in damage in recent years, destroying hay bales, tree farms and property.
The 1,000-pound elk are costing Young Dairy Farm about $500 a week in feed.
"We can’t go on like this," said Tillie Young. "They’re eating our money!"
The elk are moving deeper onto her property now, crossing the highway and into her pastures. She’s never seen them this close in more than 40 years farming this land.
"I shoot rubber bullets at them and they just look at me," she said. "I told the game warden that if they come into the bunker silo and eat the corn silage I will shoot to kill. I was told they would arrest me and put me in jail."
The bulldozing bulls are fast becoming a safety concern, as well. Jim Hayton recalls the time an elk was hit by an airplane landing on his private airstrip.
"The bull was actually chasing the plane," said Hayton.
Farmers say some 50 elk have been hit by cars this year alone. No one has been seriously injured, but Hayton wonders how long the luck will last.
"If you hit an elk head-on and it rolls up on the hood, the driver and the front seat passenger are probably not going to survive," he said.
The elk were brought to the Skagit Valley by the state about a decade ago to alleviate overcrowding around Mount Saint Helens. And even though farmers say the herd is growing out of control from Bow to Rockport, the state is still considering bringing in more.
"We have reached our capacity!" said Skagit County Commissioner Sharon Dillon.
Fish and Wildlife officials have stated that they'd like to bring the population from 1,200 to more than 1,900. One reason would be to help native subsistence hunters. Dillon believes the current elk must be moved deeper into the wild.
"We need to have feeding areas up there so they will stay there, because that is where they need to be," she said.
In a recent letter to members of the Skagit County Farm Bureau, Fish and Wildlife director Philip Anderson said the department has significantly eased elk hunting restrictions, hired a wildlife conflict specialist to help address the issue, and formed the North Cascades Elk Management Group to further involve the public in the process.
In the meantime, if something isn't done to keep encroaching elk off her farm, Tillie Young has one suggestion for the state.
"Buy my farm," she said. "You can have it. Make it an elk preserve."
The North Cascades Elk Management Work Group will meet Thursday, August 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Sedro-Woolley Community Center.