They aren’t throwing their weight (almost a half ton) around or shifting into top speed (up to 45 mph), but on a stretch of highway some 70 miles northwest of Seattle, the local elk do have a way of making their presence known. Some members of the herbivorous herd of 100—who have a tendency to hoof it across the busy thoroughfare in search of greener grasses—are sporting radio-transmitter collars. Whenever a collared elk comes within a quarter mile of U.S. 101 in washington State’s Sequim Valley, yellow highway lights begin to flash, alerting motorists to the elk’s proximity. “This is a safety issue for both people and for elk,” says Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Shelly Ament, 39, who came up with the idea after learning that 15 elk—though no humans—had been killed by collisions with cars since 1994. “Drivers didn’t seem to pay much attention to the standard elk-crossing signs,” she notes.
Having tracked wildlife electronically throughout her 18-year career, the Colorado Springs-born Ament secured a $75,000 federal grant to collar 10 elk in 1999. Since the animals tend to travel in groups, there is a good chance that at least one in each bunch will be wearing the collar. “It’s not foolproof,” the biologist admits. “Last fall a calf was killed.” Still, with warmer months drawing both grazing elk and up to 10,000 cars—most carrying tourists—to these highways each day, Ament is looking ahead to a safer, elky summer.