Schools were closed on Tuesday for fears of roofs collapsing, but a herd of elk in Pend Oreille County didn’t get the message.
About 20 wild elk were in and around an old hay storage barn taking refuge from deep snow and another storm when the roof collapsed before sunrise on Tuesday morning. Five elk were killed instantly and one bull with a broken back had to be euthanized, said Sgt. Mike Charron, state Fish and Wildlife Department enforcement officer in Colville.
Volunteers from the Metaline area rallied to salvage the elk meat for an area food bank.
“In my 24 years on the job, this is a first,” Charron said, noting that the barn on the Jim Van Dyke ranch is in a remote area near Boundary Dam.
“There’s so much snow, they’re using a bulldozer to keep a road open. The elk have been coming around hitting haystacks because they can’t get to their normal feed. They’re using plowed roads or places tramped out by stock to save energy.
“But still, it’s very uncommon for them to be comfortable enough – or desperate enough – to just bed down in an old barn.”
About a dozen volunteers responded to a ranch occupant’s call to help extract the elk from the rubble, said Cassie Petrich. She said her husband, Clint, worked all day at the site.
“They used a bulldozer and a Bobcat to get the elk out,” she said. “It was storming real bad; I mean it was blizzarding, so some of the helpers had to leave and continue plowing snow. By the time they went to gut the elk, they were already covered with snow.”
Petrich wasn’t surprised that so many people joined the effort.
“We’re a close community; everybody helps everybody, and we’re all hunters, so they all knew how to take care of the elk,” she said.
Fish and Wildlife officer Pam Taylor, who responded to the rare incident, also knew what to do with the meat, Charron said.
“All of our officers have close ties to local charities and food banks for salvageable meat,” he said. “In this case, the department decided to let the volunteers who worked so hard to salvage the animals divide the meat from two elk among themselves.”
The other four elk were offered to the Loon Lake Food Pantry.
“We were thrilled,” pantry director Sarah Nelson said Wednesday afternoon as her husband and another worker were trucking the elk back to town. The pantry was serving up to 1,100 families with weekly food baskets in December, she said.
“This is the first call we’ve ever taken for four elk. It’s a huge gift for our clients. Meat is the hardest food to come by. This is really a big deal to us.”
Volunteers at the Food Pantry would tackle the next big job: skinning, deboning and grinding the meat into hamburger, she said.
“It will be a lot of work for a lot of volunteers,” Nelson said. “Probably a couple of eight-hour days, not including the time to drive up there and get the elk. But boy is it worth it.
“We prefer to skin and process the meat ourselves so we can make sure it’s clean and in good shape, otherwise we don’t use it.”