ELLENSBURG — Spotting elk in the stretch of Interstate 90 between Ryegrass Summit and Vantage is a relatively common occurrence for motorists who travel it regularly, but seeing a herd of hundreds is an astonishing sight for anyone driving through.
The Washington State Department of Transportation posted a picture of a herd of approximately 200 to 300 elk adjacent to the interstate on Tuesday. WSDOT Communications Manager David Mosely said it is hard to predict where the elk may roam within their range on any given day. He said the department was notified by a motorist of the herd’s relative closeness to the interstate on Tuesday, and then made the decision to warn others via social media.
“Every day is different for when it comes to where the elk herd happens to be,” he said. “We wanted to alert the traveling public about the possibility of an interaction. It doesn’t mean they’re going to come down to the highway, but there’s always a possibility.”
Because of past interactions with elk, Mosely said the department has placed permanent flashing signs warning motorists of their potential presence next to the interstate on both sides of the 7-mile corridor that the elk frequent.
“We’re just trying to bring further awareness to drivers of the possibility of an interaction with the animals on the road,” he said. “We can’t necessarily say there will be an interaction at any one time. It’s just when we know they are in the area to further heighten the awareness of the drivers.”
Mosely said migrating elk are more common during the winter in the area. Motorists should use extra caution, especially on days with minimal visibility.
“An elk is a big animal,” he said. “A car interaction with an elk can lead to some serious ramifications for all involved, the animal all the way to the driver. It’s prudent on both sides just to be more aware of the possibility of the wildlife being there. Not only to pay more attention to the road and what’s around, but to slow down.”