Elk herd prospers on Hanford, WA nuclear reservation

Dry country elk herd’s major difficulty said to be agricultural damage-

I didn’t know anything about the elk in this part of Washington state. I’m glad learn that a herd of 600-700 was established 30 years ago and does well.

Elk continue to thrive in Mid-Columbia desert. By Annette Cary, Herald staff writer





  1. WM Avatar

    If anyone ever needed proof that elk were once a plains animal, this is it. I have not followed the herd very closely over the year when they first occupied the area in the ’70’s, but know the area pretty well. There simply are no trees – anywhere, just sage brush and grasses, and little water. It is a long distance to where any coniferous forests are, like forty miles to the West. It is very hot here in the summer, and the soils are alkalai, which may have something to do with the nutrient supply and antler growth. There have been reports of a few elk even north of Hanford across the Columbia, also proof that if an animal wants to get somewhere water is not always insurmountable.

    Human access has always been a problem for the area, because Hanford is still restricted, and there is a small strip on the west side before the Yakima Firing Center Military Reservation begins, which also restricts access – again no trees.

    The only thing missing here is a top predator, but because of the human population to the south, running along the Yakima River to its confluence with the Columbia (and the Snake), wolves would likely get in trouble here. This is now becoming grape growing country along the Yakima, as well. The problems with elk getting into the wheat fields to the north and the east are already pretty well documented.

    I cannot recall how the WA Draft wolf plan deals with the area and the available elk here, but will check when I have time, and report back.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Thanks for the information. I have driven through the area on the Interstate and stayed in nearby towns, meaning I don’t know it except that it looks just as you describe.

    I thought that yes, it hardly looks like elk country, but on the other hand, there are quite a few elk on the Red Desert in the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming.

  3. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    Ralph and WM, I have seen elk in the Red Desert. It looks like antelope and not elk country. I have heard numerous times that elk were originally a plains animal and I know that they did inhabit the Midwest and the Great Plains as well as the mountain west. But is there proof that they did not live in the mountains at all? I have heard this claim asserted and refuted numerous times. Did Lewis and Clark or Pike write about seeing elk in the mountains when they explored? Did they learn to adapt to mountains after persecution? Seeing how well they do in the mountains makes me think they must have evolved into that environment as well.

    1. WM Avatar


      ++But is there proof that they did not live in the mountains at all?++

      One cannot prove a negative. However, anyone who says elk were not ALSO a mountain species is not very well informed.

      We know Roosevelt elk occupied heavily forested areas of the Northwest Pacific coast from the extensive record of coastal tribes burning off dense forested lands to open up meadows for improved grazing habitat, and to make it easier to hunt them, long before European settlers. Remnants of these meadows (called prairies) exist even today, hundreds of years later. In Olympic NP, elk will summer as high as timber line at 5,000-6,000 feet (cooler and lush grasses), then move down to near sea level as the weather gets colder (although some will remain at higher elevations – recent collaring research shows- unless the snow drives them down).

      Much of the area in ID where Lewis and Clark encountered the Nez Perce, near the Weippe Prairie, is forested. There were elk there if there was feed, and there was. Areas along the Columbia River on the west side of the Cascades, were forested where L & C wintered at Fort Clatsop. They ate alot of elk.

      I don’t know much about the Pike Expedition which followed on the heels of L & C in 1806 but much further to the south. They would have at least seen elk near the mountain forests of CO, along the foothills and into Middle Park at elevations below 8,000 feet for sure. They were in that country in December I think.

      So there are a few examples of elk in the forests, as well as on the plains – Kansas had quite a few.


      Ralph, I did a quick search of the WA draft wolf management plan. There is no discussion of the Hanford elk herd, other than a quick table reference indicating it is a sub-herd of the 10,000 Yakima herd 40-50 miles to the west. Hanford/Rattlesnake Hills is likely too isolated to be of much interest to in-migrating wolves, but you never know.

      By the way, if you are a wine drinker there are great vinyards and several dozen wineries along Interstate 82 from Yakima to the Tri-Cities. Not a plug for anyone I know, but one of my very favorite blended reds is from Portteus – called “Rattlesnake Red” (merlot, cab, sangiovese, zin). It is named for the mountain/hills where those elk hang out, twenty miles to the north. Another, vintner next door in Wapato is Sagelands, which has an outstanding malbec.


      1. ProWolf in WY Avatar
        ProWolf in WY

        WM, my uncle actually found an elk antler in Iowa about 20 years ago. It was in the mud in the river and was so brittle he was not able to save it. It is interesting to think elk lived in a state that is now so agricultural. I have heard people use evidence like this that elk were exclusively a plains animal at one time. Does anyone know if Tule elk are a plains animal only? I’m not familiar with central California.

      2. Save bears Avatar

        Tule are more indigenous to the Coastal Mtn Ranges of Northern California and Southern OR, there were also indigenous elk herds in the big woods of the east, so not all species of elk were plains animals, elk were actually a very prolific animal before the Europeans came to the Americas, pretty much inhabiting all areas of the country in one form or another, the elk we are now familiar with in the Yellowstone region are the evolved remnants of the plains species and you will find that the NW area, the Olympics and Cascades have quite a bit of Plains Elk DNA in them also, due to the relocation programs done in the early part of the 1900’s by Teddy Roosevelt..

        Of course the species that RMEF has been relocating is derived from the plains species as well, they now reside in many of there former ranges in the east.

      3. Save bears Avatar

        Another thing I will add, up until recent times, the Tule was for all intent and purpose considered an extinct sub-species, and now are not longer a genetically pure sub-species, as there have been other elk transplanted to supplement that breed, for all the elk in the US, there is really no pure genetics still present, each species of elk exhibit certain characteristics, but basically they have all be cross bread in the past by the various relocation’s that have occurred..

        If we are to look at the antler mass on the various species of elk, it becomes quite evident there were differences in the sub-species, the historical herds of the Cascades and the Olympic were large bodied(more fat) and smaller antler mass, now we call these the Roosevelt Elk, what we now call the Rocky Mountain Elk had Large antler Mass, but smaller bodies, a bit thinner(less fat) to cope with the higher temp ranges on the plains and the Tule were a smaller bodied and smaller antler mass species, normally topping out in the 500 lb adult size range for bulls(average fat)..slight, but noticeable differences between the species.

      4. Save bears Avatar

        Here is a link I have posted in the past, that talks about the Tule Elk:


      5. Save bears Avatar

        Here is another link to the Wiki on Elk:


        An interesting read as well

      6. WM Avatar


        I am very familiar with the translocation efforts to add Rocky Mountain subspecies in various areas on the East side of the Cascades. I was not aware there had been much on the West side, or specifically in the Olympics, affecting Roosevelt subspecies elk. Are you certain of this?

        One distinguishing feature, in addition to your notation of heavier body mass in the Roosevelt, is that the antlers of mature bulls (6 or 7 pts) have a tendency to “crown” or have three points that come out on the terminal antler tips.

        However, Olympic Roosevelt stock has been used in translocation efforts in Canada and AK.

      7. Save bears Avatar


        Yes I am certain of this, my final work in my quest to get my degree was done in the Olympic National Park Area, and yes you are correct, the Roosevelt species is more prone to “crowning” but it does occur in the Rocky Mtn Species as well, just not as often..I will never claim to be an expert on Elk, but I do have an extensive amount of knowledge, I was blessed to study where I did. I will have to dig up some of my reference material from the early part of the 1900’s, it makes for very interesting reading and does shed some information on the very early conservation efforts in this country..

      8. Save bears Avatar


        I also know of two mounted Roosevelt Elk that were taken on the Olympic that not only were royals(7 points on each side) but they also have a 3 point crown on each side above the 7, making them a Crown Royal, which is very rare Elk..

      9. WM Avatar


        Thanks. I found a source (BC Ministry Wildlife Bulletin) for Vancouver Island’s Roosevelt elk, which are genetically pure (no RM elk genes, whereas Olympic Peninsula Roosevelt do have minor RM traits from some in-migration of transplants, at the fringes). I am still under the impression Olympic Peninsula elk may have been translocated to mainland BC (although I am still checking). They have been translocated to AK, since 1900 (Afoganak Is).


      10. Save bears Avatar


        I am in WA right now and will return home after the first of the year, I will dig out, if I can find them a couple of pictures that was given to me by the Quinault Elders when I was finishing up my studies of a train being unloaded adjacent to their reservation of 23 Rocky Mtn Elk from Yellowstone being turned loose in about 1917 or 1918, The Quinault Reservation is in the SW corner of the Olympics, makes for some fascinating studies..

      11. Save bears Avatar


        The Island populations are pretty isolated from the rest of the elk populations and no, they don’t show any interbreeding..

        It is quite interesting the path that the various species of elk have taken in this country..

      12. Save bears Avatar

        Kind of reminds me of the “104 pound” coyote recently shot!

        Ya Right!

      13. WM Avatar

        I have spent a fair amount of time on and around the Quinault Res. Most who post here have no idea about what real rain is like, and measured in feet. Ever been up the East Fork of the Quinault to Enchanted Valley? Or, work with Bruce Moorehead at ONP?

      14. Save bears Avatar

        I know Bruce, but have never worked with him, and YES, I know what it is to measure rain by the foot! I spent a lot of time on the Olympic, it is a beautiful area, albeit very wet!

      15. WM Avatar

        If anybody knows more about Roosevelt elk than Bruce, on the Peninsula and specifically ONP, I am not sure who it would be. He is retired now. I have some great rut pictures up the Hoh, he sent me a few years back, and he frequently asks me about my ID elk trips and the wolves we have encountered there.

      16. Ryan Avatar

        This is not a good area to relocate wolves as most of the area around it is private and much of it used for livestock.

  4. Ryan Avatar

    I have some pictures of bulls off hanford (live) I can email you if you’d like.. Huge, like World record size bulls. Pretty neat to see.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar


      If you would let us post some great elk photos, thank you!

      1. Ryan Avatar

        They should be a go to post.

  5. Ryan Avatar

    Please do, they are pretty amazing huh

  6. JB Avatar

    CBD recently took some heat from a few posters for petitioning FWS for a national recovery plan for wolves under the ESA. What people don’t understand is that their ability to make such a petition relies entirely upon the “significant portion of its range” issue; essentially, they argue wolves have been eliminated from vast portions of the conterminous US which, by any measure, are “significant”. It is unfortunate that they chose the wolf as a “test case” for this policy, as I think this could ultimately be the type of policy that unites hunters and non-hunting conservationists. Specifically, both elk and bison have been eliminated from vast portions of their range as well; if FWS acknowledged that the areas where the wolf was eliminated are “significant”, it would open them up to petitions to list these species (in areas where they are threatened) as well. However, in order to make this work under the NA model of wildlife conservation we need to be able to delineate listing status by state boundaries–which is why I have argued that the DPS policy should be modified.

    1. WM Avatar


      How, specifically, would you change DPS policy to move away from state boundaries (or even within states designations that follow major roadways, like the NRM DPS in OR, WA and UT)? I have thought about ecosystem or major drainage boundaries, but in the end it still seems to wind up with a state/multiple states ultimately having to manage a species (unless they are cut out of management/administration).

      I agree CBD’s timing for a national wolf recovery plan and threat of suit, is probably not the best timing, especially with the issues it raises, as you note. But, where do we go from here?

    2. JB Avatar

      Actually, I would change it to explicitly note that state boundaries are an appropriate way to delineate a DPS (i.e., a species’ listing status). Just to be clear, I think “natural” dispersal/migration barriers are appropriate as well, but this idea that you can’t use state boundaries to break up DPS’s is, in my opinion, going to be problematic in listing and recovering populations of other species in the long run (it will create even more opposition to listing and especially reintroducing species). The logic for such a change is simple: it recognizes that states are the appropriate “unit” of government to manage species and that, because state governments ultimately have jurisdiction over non-listed species, threats to the species can vary based upon state boundaries (i.e., Wyoming).

      Multi-state coordination should not be required once a species (a) recovers to a level where the state contains a minimum viable population and (b) the state(s) in question commits to maintain an MVP.


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Ralph Maughan