Incoming traffic to the Hoh Rain Forest was halted for about 30 minutes on June 20, while rangers killed the cow with two rifle shots to the heart. The cow fell on a gravel bar approximately 100 yards west of the Hoh campground’s A Loop.
Rangers took tissue samples and a section of the animal’s brain for analysis by National Park Service wildlife biologists. The rest of the carcass was relocated away from visitor use areas and will be removed through natural processes.
The cow, identified through its distinctive beard, long legs and paint markings, is the same animal that damaged a tent and charged a patrol vehicle in the campground’s A Loop June 17, forcing a closure of the Hoh for the rest of the day. Rangers closely monitored the cow and two small herds of elk over the weekend, hazing the animal when it entered the vicinity of humans. This morning, the cow again charged two vehicles, which led to the decision to remove it.
“After careful consideration, we determined lethal removal to be the appropriate course of action in this situation,” said Olympic National Park Superintendent Karen Gustin. “We hope that lab results will tell us more about the possible reasons for this animal’s unpredictable behavior.”
Roosevelt elk in the Hoh Rain Forest have exhibited signs of habituation—becoming abnormally comfortable in the presence of humans — in the past. Area rangers continue to educate park visitors on how to recognize signs of habituation, the need for and reasoning behind hazing of animals, and the importance of not feeding wildlife.
Habituation creates a dangerous situation for both the animal and for park visitors. People who approach elk place themselves at even greater risk, as elk can aggressively charge people and cause injury with hooves or antlers. In turn, the elks’ safety is jeopardized, as biologists must consider serious action, including lethal removal.
Last July, reports of habituated elk prompted area rangers to begin a concentrated program to discourage interactions between elk and humans —including temporary closures of Hoh Rain Forest nature trails while elk are using the areas and employment of a variety of techniques to drive elk from the most heavily used visitor areas.
“The Roosevelt elk is one of Olympic’s most beautiful and iconic animals,” Gustin said. “At the same time, elk pose a very real hazard to people who approach too closely—to avoid injury and to protect the animals, visitors should remain at least 50 yards from elk and other park wildlife.”