Posted: Jan 20, 2011 5:41 PM by Allyson Weller (KPAX News)
Updated: Jan 21, 2011 10:17 AM
STEVENSVILLE - A large elk herd is causing problems for some ranchers in the Bitterroot.
Stevensville ranch owner Skip Leese says he has already lost thousands of dollars in damage from the 80 to 120 head elk herd.
"I would say the biggest concern is just that they're here and how long are they going to be here, I mean are we going to be able to get them out of here before spring and if not, the elk herd can wipe out a hay crop, they're taking away pastures, and you don't know what kind of diseases that they can infect the local cattle around here."
Leese says that three weeks ago the herd showed up hopping over and through fences to eat his hay.
"It's some long nights sleeping out here in the truck and keeping them out during the night and during the day they stay away but once the night comes, they would go back in again."
Leese shot one of the elk and turned it over the Fish Wildlife and Parks last week after securing some permits.
He said since then the elk haven't been back. But now that the weather has cooled down again, Leese is worried they'll return.
"I just hope the public is aware that you know this is an issue that's got to be dealt with, it's nice for people to see them and take pictures but there's another side of it that takes away from the rancher."
He told us that the elk have already eaten around $2,500 worth of hay and damaged his fences, leaving him worried about the spring.
"Right now I'm pretty sure it's going to be short but if we have an early spring that may help out but I kind of plan for hay from the 1st of November to the 15th of May and I don't think I'm going to make it now."
FWP and a few other organizations have chipped in a total of $2,500 to help pay for an almost $4,000 electric fence.
But as for the destroyed fences and eaten hay, that cost is going to come out of Leese's pocket.
FWP officials held a Thursday evening meeting to help ranchers deal with the elk and say it's important for the ranchers to work with them to fix the problem.