It isn’t flowers, but elk and grizzlies and salmon that have gone…

Elk herd hangin' by Hwy 299

Elk herd hangin' by Hwy 299

The phone rang this morning about three minutes after my husband left the house.  My son answered and shouted to me, “The elk.”  Ok.  I knew what he meant.

We live just west of Blue Lake and at least once a year the elk come down out of the hills to graze along side the road.  There are at least forty of them, with more than a few big bulls grazing among the many cows.  As I drive up, they lift their towering racks majestically,  and watch me watch them.  They don’t trust me, but aren’t afraid.  It is an amazing thing to see.

According to many newspaper reports and letters written when the whites first arrived in Humboldt County, elk herds were a common sight.  As were grizzlies and rivers so full of fish you could cross the water balanced on their backs. 

 No more.  The Grizzlies are gone, silt clogs the rivers instead of salmon and the sight of an elk herd is a novelty.

From Humboldt Bay, written to San Francisco, May 19, 1850

To the Editors of the Alta California:

…   Most of the country through which we passed was the most beautiful I ever beheld.  Some parts are very heavily timbered with spruce and red wood.  The whole country abounds in wild game of every description.  On my expedition I saw five large fine elks and had a shot at two of them with my pistol.  On yesterday a party of Sonorians killed six elk, the largest weighing 600 lbs.  The more I see of this country the more thoroughly am I convinced that it is destined to become the seat of a large commercial city.  It has every local advantage that a site for a city can possess. The only annoyances we now have are from the Indians.

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6 Responses to It isn’t flowers, but elk and grizzlies and salmon that have gone…

  1. Beautiful. Do you know if they are the same specie of Elk that we once had?

  2. lynette77 says:

    Honestly, I didn’t know there were different species… These guys look just like the ones you’ll see driving through Prairie Creek, but without all the tourists parked on the side of the road messing up your photos 🙂

    I must admit I still get a thrill when I see a doe or skunk wandering around, but these guys, boy these guys are something else, entirely !

  3. anonymous says:

    Of elk, eggs and antelope:

    “The grasslands and marshlands of California were home to abundant tule elk when the first Europeans arrived. Dale McCullough of the University of California, Berkeley, has done the most complete study of these animals and has estimated their aboriginal numbers at 500,000. 9 Richard Henry Dana in his Two Years Before the Mast described “hundreds and hundreds” of these animals on the Marin headlands, which he watched when his sailing ship anchored in San Francisco Bay in 1835. 10 Missionary-explorer Pedro Font noted the abundance of elk in the San Francisco peninsula and east bay in 1775 and 1776. 11 Early American settler William Heath Davis reported seeing as many as three thousand elk “that swam from Mare Island to Vallejo and back,” and John Bidwell wrote of elk “by the thousand” in the Napa and Santa Clara valleys in 1841. 12 It was the tule marshes and grasslands of the Central Valley, however, that supported the greatest numbers of elk, and it was there that they made their last stand.

    The Gold Rush touched off the slaughter of elk because of the demand for meat in the burgeoning mining camps, towns, and cities, coupled with a shortage of beef or mutton. For a time, market-hunting of elk, deer, and pronghorn, along with waterfowl and other game, became a lucrative livelihood for those who preferred shooting to grubbing for gold. While there is little doubt that market-hunting depleted elk populations, it was the spread of agriculture, and the corresponding destruction of elk habitat, that really led to their near extinction. With agricultural demands came the drainage of the tule marshes, the canalization of rivers, and the fencing of farmlands. Meanwhile, great herds of domestic cattle, sheep, horses, and other live-stock competed with elk for the forage produced on lands not suited to crops. In the words of T.S. Van Dyke,
    Egg pickers gather the harvest on one of the Farallon Islands, some thirty miles off the Golden Gate, in 1880. The wild rush west of thousands of gold seekers created an enormous demand in California not only for game, but also for fish and fowl and eggs. Between 1850 and 1856 the Farallone Egg Company alone brought over three million eggs—chiefly those of the common murre—to the San Francisco markets. California Historical Society, FN-30975.
    As the swamps began to be drained and the cover burned off, and roads made through the drying ground, it was again the same old story of the white man. By 1875 the antelope were a curiosity on the great plains, where so many thousands lately glimmered through the dancing heat, while the elk were almost as rare in the great tule swamps that so lately seemed inaccessible. By 1885 only one band was left, and that was on the immense (half-million acre) ranch of Miller and Lux in the upper part of the valley, some twenty miles from Bakersfield. 13
    Van Dyke visited the last herd in 1895 and found that only twenty-eight animals had survived despite the protection provided by Henry Miller. From these and perhaps only one other pair of elk reported by Game Warden A. C. Tibbets in 1895, the present population of tule elk, now numbering over two thousand, descended, but genetic diversity has been lost.
    The near extermination of elk was matched by that of the pronghorn. The antelope-like grazers roamed the sea coast from Monterey to the Los Angeles basin, and the interior from the upper limits of the Sacramento Valley south into Baja California and east into the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert. But the pronghorn were animals of the grasslands, not adapted to forest, chaparral, or tule marshes. Thus, unlike the elk or black-tailed deer, they had no place to hide from the hunters. Their keen eyesight and fast running speed were no match for firearms, and they were rapidly wiped out from their main center in the Central Valley, the coastal areas, the desert fringes. Only in the northeastern corner of the state, in the sagebrush plains, did pronghorn survive. One could blame their decline on gold-rush mining, and it was, no doubt, a contributing factor, but it was the resultant lack of government protection and popular support for conservation, combined with the spread of pastoralism and agriculture, that were the main causes. ”
    A Golden State, chapter 5
    http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/8384/8384.ch05.php

    • lynette77 says:

      Makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it :-/

      The belief I will hold onto until or unless someone proves otherwise, is that folks didn’t grasp the implications of their actions… or perhaps, just perhaps, they would have done things differently.

      Though… even today we do so many things that knowingly harm the environment. Plastic bags, clearcutting rainforests… one shudders to think about what our own descendants will never see or experience.

  4. […] Unfortunately, the discovery of gold, and a desire for a faster, easier routes to the inland gold mines brought an end to Humboldt County’s isolation.  White settlers came into the area and began competing for resources, […]

  5. […] Unfortunately, the discovery of gold, and a desire for a faster, easier routes to the inland gold mines brought an end to Humboldt County’s isolation.  White settlers came into the area and began competing for resources, […]

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