A homeowner just outside Hailey woke up early Wednesday morning with an elk in a basement bedroom, just hours after 10 elk died from eating Japanese yew in the Hailey Cemetery.
The incidents were unrelated – the house was far from the cemetery – but both are attributable to high snow levels in the mountains, said Regional Conservation Educator Kelton Hatch of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
“This time of year, animals are moving down to populated valleys where they traditionally would have fed,” Hatch said.
The elk ended up in the bedroom after falling in a basement window well and crashing through the window, Senior Conservation Officer Alex Head of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said in a statement. It took several hours for Blaine County sheriff’s deputies and Fish and Game officers to steer the confused elk up the basement stairs and out of the house.
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“It took us about 2 ½ hours, but we got her out uninjured,” Head said in a statement. “The basement will need a good, deep cleaning, but we are glad it worked out as well as it did.”
The officers and deputies used mattresses as shields as they prodded the cow towards the stairs.
At the cemetery, Fish and Game officers quickly disposed of the 10 elk carcasses while city maintenance workers removed the remaining Japanese Yew from cemetery grounds.
“Japanese yew is known to be extremely toxic,” said Daryl Meints, Fish and Game’s regional wildlife manager in a statement. “This has happened before in the Wood River Valley and other places around the state to both elk and moose.”
The increased number of elk and other animals is causing problems on roads, too, where several vehicle versus animal crashes have occurred in recent weeks, Hatch said. Often elk will survive the initial crash but die later from internal injuries, sometimes on people’s properties.
In Montana, a train collided with a herd of elk, killing 23 animals Thursday morning, about three miles east of East Helena, the Helena Independent Record reported.
“Pretty much when a 60 mph train hits an elk, they explode on impact and there’s not much left,” Montana game warden Dave Loewen told the newspaper. “It’s pretty devastating.”
KREM-TV reported that a herd, nicknamed the Milepost 48 Gang, can be seen on Interstate 90 in Idaho at the milepost between Smelterville and Kellogg. The elk have have caused at least a half-dozen accidents along the roadway in the past two years.
Officials estimate that the herd ranges from about 10 elk at times to 40 or 50.
“Drivers should be real cautionary this time of year,” Hatch said. “Especially at dawn and dusk when animals are most likely to be feeding.”
“The best thing for people to do is slow down when driving,” Meints said. “When you have elk in your backyard give them a wide berth and don’t push them, and if you have a problem call Fish and Game or local city police or the county sheriff.”