Elk in Washington
The wapiti, or elk, is one of the largest members of the deer family. Only the moose is larger. There are two subspecies of elk in Washington:
- Roosevelt elk
- Rocky Mountain (sometimes called Yellowstone) elk
The Roosevelt elk is found in western Washington, while the Rocky Mountain elk is found in eastern Washington. The Rocky Mountain elk is slightly lighter colored than the Roosevelt elk, and it is slightly smaller in body size. The most distinctive feature on both subspecies of elk is the rump patch, which is a pale white or cream color. Adult bull elk can weigh as much as 1,100 pounds, although the average weight is usually between 500-700 pounds.
The elk herds of Washington are now found in seven major areas of the state. The two major herds are the Yakima (13,300 animals) and the Olympic (6,000 animals). The Blue Mountain herd (4,500 animals), Wenatchee Mountain herd (6,500 animals), and Saint Helens herd (12,200 animals) comprise most of the remaining population. Smaller elk herds are the Mt. Rainier (4,000 animals), Willapa (3,000 animals), Nooksack (300 animals), and Selkirk (1,300 animals).
In general, grasses and sedges are the main items in the diet of wild elk, although local habitat conditions may cause this to vary. In habitats which are overgrazed, elk will rely heavily on browse and will include in their diet such shrubs and trees as fir, maple, serviceberry, dogwood, aspen, pine, willow, and sage.
As with deer, tooth analysis is the best way to determine the age of individual animals. Antler size is not an accurate way to age bull elk.
Natural enemies of elk in Washington include the cougar, coyote, dogs, bobcat, bear, and golden eagle. The latter three animals will generally attack and consume only very young calves or severely injured animals.