Olympic National Park is home to the largest unmanaged herd of Roosevelt elk in the Pacific Northwest. Named for President Theodore Roosevelt, they are the largest variety of elk in North America. Most cows weigh 600-700 pounds (272-317 kg), but bulls can weigh up to 1,100 pounds (500 kg)! Both males and females have dark brown heads and pale brown bodies with a large white rump and a stubby tail. Males are larger than females, and identifiable by a set of antlers in the summer and fall. Roosevelt elk are much larger than the blacktail deer that inhabit the same areas.
Elk are relatively versatile, and often occupy a range of habitats, from montane meadows and forests down to the lowland rain forests, where there is ample food. An excellent place to see elk is the Hoh Rain Forest. These non-migratory herds stay in the Hoh area throughout the year, banding together in herds of around 20 and consisting of females and their calves. Male elk, or bulls, can be seen singly or small groups. September is a great time to hear them bugling, as it is mating season and the males compete for groups of females.
Roosevelt elk feed mainly on ferns, shrubs, and lichens from the rain forest, as well as meadow grasses.
Role in the Ecosystem:
Roosevelt elk are the largest herbivore on the peninsula, making them an important indicator to the health of the ecosystem. They must eat a significant amount, considering their size, which can over-graze and deplete a vegetative area if there are too many. With not enough grazing animals, predators may not be able to survive. While their only main natural predators are bears or mountain lions, if an elk dies, its size can provide food for hundreds of organisms from large predators to scavengers and decomposers.
Before Europeans settled in the Pacific Northwest, Roosevelt Elk could be found from Northern California to Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Throughout the late 1890's and early 1900's, the Roosevelt Elk population declined significantly due to an increase in hunting as more Europeans settled. Olympic National Park protects the elk that live within the park today, but a few key presidents helped to enact the policies that created this circumstance.
President Grover Cleveland created the Olympic Forest Preserve in 1897 to help protect the forest ecosystem from deforestation.
President Theodore Roosevelt redesignated part of the Olympic Forest Reserve as Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909 in an effort to preserve the native habitat of the elk herds. These efforts are why the once-called Olympic Elk are now called Roosevelt Elk in this presidents' honor.
President Franklin Roosevelt signed the act redesignating the area as Olympic National Park in 1938, further protecting and preserving the landscape and animals within it.