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Frequently (and not so frequently) Asked Questions

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BRIEF: Why are these elk dying?


QUESTION:
I have over 100 elk dying on a 2800 acre wildlife area, at mt st helens in Washington State, our DFW, says they can't feed them and they are dying of malnutrition. But they also said they have only done 2 autopsies. Is this normal or what else can I do to find out what might be killing them. This is about 23% of the herd currently.

ANSWER:

By malnutrition, do they mean lack of food, lack of a specific nutrient, or what? Also is this malnutrition primary (no feed) or due to illness (parasites or TSE?) or poisoning that reduces feed intake even on adequate pasture/browse? Were these a natural long time herd or an attempted introduction? After the disturbance 19 years ago, did any particular toxic plant gain a foothold or become monoculture at some localities for the first time? Big dieoffs due to starvation are not unknown in deer and elk herds. Properly managed hunts seek to substitute the hunter for the grimmer reaper of winter starvation. I don't suggest hunts there, but you might want to check for the type of vegetative damage that characterizes overstocked rangeland. If absent, if there seems to be surplus elk feed standing when the snow flies, then you may have another, more complex kind of problem.