MOUNT VERNON — A growing elk herd in the area has become a costly nuisance, particularly for farmers east of Sedro-Woolley.
The Skagit County Assessor’s Office is now taking note of recent elk damage to property. To gather that information, the Assessor’s Office is sending out surveys along with paperwork for an annual assessment of farmland.
Annual damage by elk — from downed fences to eaten and trampled crops — is estimated to exceed $1.5 million, according to survey responses the Assessor’s Office has received so far.
Skagit County Chief Deputy Assessor Annette DeVoe and Skagit County Assessor Dave Thomas took their findings Saturday to the state Fish & Wildlife Commission — a governor-appointed authority that oversees the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, which co-manages wildlife with area tribes.
Each year, the Assessor’s Office must determine the potential revenue and appropriate lease rate for some classifications of farmland.
DeVoe and Thomas said some farmers in recent years have stopped leasing land frequented by the growing elk herd, and others have applied for land reclassification due to repeated crop damage.
“The fact that people are having to spend extra money to repair fences, losing crops — that impacts the value of the current lease rates,” DeVoe said.
The Assessor’s Office took note of this impact early last year and in March began surveying farmers.
Thomas said farmers within the affected area — generally east of Sedro-Woolley and in the valley hugging Highway 20 — are being asked three things: Have you endured elk damage? What type of damage was caused? Can you estimate how much that costs you per year?
As of January, 77 of 99 farmers who responded said they were impacted by elk.
While the dollar estimates from those 77 farmers are not backed by hard evidence, DeVoe and Thomas said they’ve seen fields and photos of fields that suggest the farmers are not embellishing their stories.
“They are probably, truthfully, underreporting because it’s hard to put a price on, for example ‘I spent Saturday repairing fences,’” DeVoe said. “How do you put a value on that?”
Thomas and DeVoe said the impact is clear.
“Some people who lease land up there have actually pulled out of their leases because they can’t know that their crops won’t be damaged by the elk, so it’s no longer profitable to them,” DeVoe said.
Thomas said the Assessor’s Office needs to contact 300 more farmers, and expects to complete an annual summary of elk damage reports, including responses from those farmers, this spring.
The office will then present its findings to the Skagit County Board of Commissioners and Fish & Wildlife with the hope the information leads to solutions for those being affected by the elk herd.
“It’s our best effort to try and quantify the impact of this,” Thomas said.