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Roosevelt Elk

(Cervus canadensis roosevelti)

Today, the Sechelt Peninsula and most areas of the south-west mainland are home to significant populations (herds) of Roosevelt Elk.  This is largely the result of a determined effort by government and citizens who took bold action to avoid the extirpation of this species with a program that bolstered populations of Roosevelt Elk throughout the south-west coastal areas of mainland BC.


It began, between 1987 and 1989, when 24 Roosevelt Elk were “reintroduced” to the Kleindale area on the Sechelt Peninsula. Over the next few years this small herd grew and in 1996 a program of annual translocations began where members and descendants of this original herd were moved to locations all over the south-west coastal area. Along the way, despite the translocations, the Kleindale herd(s), in our midst, were still growing and occasionally became seen, by affected citizens, as a nuisance.


The story about how this was done is interesting and thought provoking.  You will discover that the epicentre of this historic effort to save these elk was right here in our area on the Sunshine Coast where over 72.3% of the program’s captured-for-translocation animals originated. Reading on, we hope you will discover, that amidst the politics and science, our Roosevelt Elk are truly magnificent neighbours who are just as well suited to our west coast environment as we humans are.  If we can find a balance that gives elbow room between the needs of elk and humans, then the extirpation of elk, both on the Sechelt Peninsula and elsewhere in British Columbia, can be avoided.


A few centuries ago, when Europeans arrived in North America, elk were the most widely distributed hoofed mammal on the continent and could be found all across southern Canada.  At that time there were an estimated 10 million elk in North America which was home to six subspecies or races of elk. 


Two of those, the Elk of eastern North America and the Merriam Elk of the southwest United States, are now extinct because of human development and hunting.


Today, the four remaining species are the Manitoba Elk of the great plains, the Tule Elk of California, the Rocky Mountain Elk of the Rockies and adjacent ranges, and the Roosevelt Elk of the Pacific northwest coast.


Of the four surviving elk subspecies, it is the Rocky Mountain and Roosevelt Elk that live in British Columbia. Roosevelt Elk ranges are in the dense old-growth rainforests of Vancouver Island and south west mainland coasts and the Rocky Mountain Elk live in the grassy interior valleys with scattered tree cover.  Unlike Moose, elk are not physically adapted for travelling in snow. They keep to regions where the snow remains shallow in winter and depend heavily on low-growing forage that disappears under the shallow snow. This means that elk are not as prevalent in northern British Columbia.

The map below (circa 2015) shows the ranges of Roosevelt Elk on Vancouver Island and the south-west coastal areas of British Columbia's mainland.

Characteristics  and  Anatomy

Adult bull elk stand about 140 cm high at the shoulder and weigh 265 to 410 kg; cows stand about 130 cm high and weigh 190 to 270 kg.  The primary visual characteristics are a brownish coat, a dark mane and a white rump patch bordered by a dark brown or black stripe.


In winter, the head, neck, and legs are dark brown, and the sides and back are a much lighter grey-brown. Bulls tend to have a lighter, creamier body colour than cows. During the spring moult in May and June, the elk’s coat is very ragged looking.  Summer coats are a rich reddish-brown, with little or no undercoat. Both sexes have heavy dark manes and a yellowish-white rump patch bordered by a dark brown or black stripe.  Both genders have large rounded upper canine teeth (elk tusks).


Adult males (bulls) have large forked antlers.

Yearling bulls usually have unbranched spike antlers, two-year-olds have a slender rack with three or four points on each side (often referred to as raghorns), and three-year-olds have a heavier set with four or five points.


Mature bull elk (four years and older) have majestic, dark-brown antlers with ivory tips. The 110 to 160 cm long cylindrical beams sweep upward and back over the shoulders. In addition to the tip of the antler, there are usually five other pointed tines that arc forward and upward from the main beam.


The two subspecies of elk in British Columbia, the Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain, look quite similar. Roosevelt Elk are slightly larger and darker than Rocky Mountain Elk and the antlers of Roosevelt bulls sometimes terminate in a crown of three or four points.


The complex measurement of elk antler produces a “score” used internationally.  Included below is a general diagram of antlers and also a World Record set by hunter, Rick Bailey, near Pitt Lake, B.C. which was verified in 2019.

Habitat, Foraging and Diet

Roosevelt Elk in the Pacific North West, unlike elk in other ranges, enjoy an abundance of water which means that food source and cover or shelter are the primary factors that drive herd movements toward suitable habitat.


They are ruminants with a digestive system with four stomachs and a long intestinal tract that can efficiently process grasses and other vegetation into useable energy.


During winter elk don’t eat when there is snow on the ground. After the snow melts elk continue eating until another layer of snow occurs.


Elk graze primarily on ground level sedges, grasses, ferns, elderberry and blueberries and mushrooms, but will also reach upwards to the degree possible to graze on leaves of willows, elderberry, blueberries, salmonberries, lichens, cedar and hemlock.  Foliage higher than they can reach is simply not available. Not surprisingly, they are constantly moving as they seek access to forage.


Like caribou, elk commonly form large social groups (herds).  Elk on the Sunshine Coast exist in small scattered herds. They prefer low-elevation early seral forests (forests emerging from landscapes disturbed by logging, fire, windthrow, landslides and insects).


In winter and spring, they will forage in riparian, wetland, and estuarine meadow habitats as well as old growth stands of trees with large lateral branches and numerous gaps and edges.


In summer, some elk migrate upward into sub-alpine meadows and avalanche tracks, while others will stay year-round on valley-bottom ranges.

Important to their migratory nature and the constant search for food, elk (including the very young) are strong swimmers. Their thick layers of fat and hollow hair provide both bouncy and insulation. Comfortable and buoyant, they are able to handle fast flowing rivers and long swims in lakes or oceans. They are known to be able to swim about 3 miles and will often use water bodies as a way of escaping predators.

Screenshot 2023-11-10 at

Life Cycle

Elk are social animals. Groups of 20 or more cows, calves, and yearlings live apart from smaller groups of bulls.  During autumn, with the approach of the September rut, these groups come together.


Roosevelt Elk live between 10 and 15 years. Cows breed for the first time at 2 years of age. Males are sexually active slightly earlier..


Bulls establish harems of several cows. By demonstrating their prowess and by intimidating rival bulls, males seek to attract females which they then jealously herd and guard using a wide range of physical behaviours.

During the rut adult bulls, also engage in serious head-to-head dominance fights that occasionally end with the victor goring the loser with his antlers.  They also wallow, spray urine, thrash vegetation and emit a unique bugle call which begins as a low chesty roar, that transitions into a high bugling sound and ends in a series of grunts.

When a cow in the harem becomes receptive to mating, the bull’s aggressive behaviour transitions to more submissive rituals that lead to breeding. Most breeding occurs from mid to late September but can extend into November.  The gestation period is eight months which means most calves are born in late May and early June which is a perfect time of year for them to survive infancy and thrive.


In preparation for the birth, the cow finds a secluded place with dense cover.  Most cows have one spotted calf that weighs about 13 kg. (twins are rare). The cow hides the calf, then forages in the vicinity, and returns at intervals to nurse it. After two or three weeks, the calf is able accompany its mother to rejoin the matriarchal group. At two months the calf is fully weaned and at one year will leave their mother.


During the rut, elk bulls do not feed yet they exert a lot of energy. This leaves the bulls in very poor physical condition as winter approaches, the season in which the most stress is put on elk. Bulls, as a result, have a higher death rate than cows, an imbalance that contributes to polygamous mating.


If summer and fall foraging habitat quality is low, the fat reserves that the elk depend upon during the winter to move and find forage, will also be low. Malnutrition during severe winters is probably the main reason why elk die particularly calves during their first winter.


Also taking a toll are the main predators of elk, wolves, cougars, and bears, who mostly take calves or adults that are weakened by severe weather, malnutrition, or injuries.

It is primarily the elk’s large size coupled with the living in herds that provides the greatest protection from natural predators. Secondly they are naturally wary and particularly protective of newborn which they “hide” during the first few weeks and months.

Elk are known to host a number of naturally occurring parasites, bacteria, and viruses.  However these do not generally cause death unless combined with severe malnutrition.

On balance, reproduction is usually sufficient to maintain populations.

Elk also die as a result of human interaction. These deaths have been tabulated and are published in the order of frequency that they are known to occur:

1.  Hunting

2.  Highway and railway accidents

3.  Agricultural conflicts with farmers

Endangered or Invasive Species

When Europeans arrived in North America, elk were the most widely distributed hoofed mammal and could be found all across southern Canada.  By 1900 elk populations were “in disarray”.  Elk were largely extirpated in eastern Canada and the same seemed about to happen on on the southern mainland coast of BC.

Fortunately, elk populations on Vancouver Island, were at more sustainable levels although, there too, human expansion was slowly encroaching on elk habitat as it had already done all across Canada.  While elk may be domesticated, making elk-ranching possibility, British Columbia's Game Farming Regulation accommodates fallow deer, bison and reindeer but elk-ranching is not permitted.


With the shadow of extirpation looming, measures such as closed or restricted hunting seasons, game reserves, and the re-introduction of elk were pursued.  Yoho and Kootenay national parks and Strathcona Provincial Park were established  between 1886 and 1920. More recently, government initiatives such as the Protected Areas Strategy have produced new reserves in the northern Rocky Mountains, many that contain Rocky Mountain Elk.


Reintroductions and Translocations:

By 1900 the North American elk population fell below 100,00. In the first annual report of the BC Provincial Game and Forest Warden (1905), concern was expressed about the future of elk in light of indiscriminate killing, the ease with which elk may be hunted at certain times of the year and the effects of severe winters. 

In BC, transfers, translocations and reintroductions began in 1917 when 10 elk were introduced near Lillooet. The Manitoba Elk was introduced twice: once in 1948 to the Lardeau River valley in the west Kootenays and again, in 1984, to the Kechika River valley in the northern Rocky Mountains.


By 1970 it was estimated that only 50,000 elk remained in North America, most located in the western part of the continent. 


An “Elk Management Project” was first set up by the BC Ministry of Wildlife between 1987 and 1989 to augment the diminishing Sunshine Coast populations of Roosevelt Elk.  In our references we have included the Preliminary Elk Management Plan for British Columbia, Fish and Wildlife Branch, Ministry of Environment, dated February, 1981.


In that report is a map (seen below) which depicts the range of the Rosevelt Elk at the time. Note that all the elk to the west of the saw-tooth line are Rosevelt Elk and that there are no elk on the Sunshine Coast, Fraser Valley or up the coast although the report estimated that 10  Rosevelt Elk existed in the Lower Mainland, explaining that: “…elk occasionally find their way to the Lower Mainland from Washington State”.  The provincial population of elk at that time was estimated at about 23,000 animals.

The preliminary plan stated: “the first objective is to increase the elk population to a minimum of 36,000 animals (32,500 Rocky Mountain and 3,500 Roosevelt Elk) distributed in traditional habitats throughout B.C.”; this was to be an overall increase of 13,000 elk.

The 1981 plan also addressed the idea of moving elk into different locations: “It is possible to restore elk to some areas of their former range by transplants.  Before transplants are initiated it will be determined if the factor or factors leading to the extirpation of the population can be controlled so that sufficient elk habitat remains to support a population. The most important consideration politically and socially is whether such re-introductions would unduly conflict with existing land use. Coordinated resource management planning may resolve land use conflicts. There should also be a determination that sufficient elk habitat remains to support a population. Because elk are social animals, special care must be taken to assure their adaptation to the transplant site.”

In 1998, because of limited range, loss of habitat, predation, poaching, and unregulated hunting, Roosevelt Elk were acknowledged to be vulnerable to extirpation or extinction and added to the "Blue List, S3S4" of vulnerable or sensitive species in BC.

The following information is from a “Management Plan for Roosevelt elk in BC”, published in 2015 and a BC Conservation Data Centre Status Report published in 2017. (links to these documents are available in references below). Because, in many cases, it is impossible to determine if elk previously existed in any particular area, the term reintroduction was, in some cases, incorrect; the term translocation was used.

Here is what Happened on our Sechelt Peninsula (Kleindale): note all references to elk are about Roosevelt Elk.

Between 1987 and 1989, 24 elk were translocated from Campbell River and Qualicum into the Sechelt Peninsula (several references mention Kleindale as the release location).

Seven years later in 1996,  20 elk were translocated out of Kleindale and into Powell River.

In 2000 the Coastal Mainland Roosevelt Elk Recovery and Management Project (CMRERMP) was initiated with the long-term goal of re-establishing self-sustaining populations of Roosevelt elk, where ecologically possible, throughout their historical coastal mainland range. At that juncture, there were an estimated 400 elk in the South Coast Region, almost all of which were located on the Sunshine Coast.


In 2001,  43 elk were translocated out of Kleindale and into McNab, Rainy River and Skwawka River.

For each of the next 14 years, large translocations occurred out of Kleindale on Sechelt Peninsula and into a substantial number of priority watersheds ,dubbed “EPU’s” on the South Coast, which included: Theodosia/Powell-Daniels River, Toba Inlet, Quatam River, Phillips River and Bute Inlet

Clarification of this can be found in, “A Management Plan for Roosevelt elk in BC”, published in 2015. The map below is from that document and shows the creation of a large number of “Elk Population Units” (EPU). EPU #109 (Sechelt Peninsula) can be found on the map, which serves as a master planning tool that identifies EPUs and their population objectives. Further into the plan lies the data about what is going on in each EPU; the Sechelt Peninsula EPU data is shown in the table-strip below.

The large number of elk translocated from the Sechelt Peninsula, gives rise to the impression that the Sechelt Peninsula was being used as a natural elk farm.  This is confirmed in the 2015 management plan when the following note appears about the Sechelt Peninsula EPU: “Primary source population for translocations. Need to control elk along highway, and urban fringe."

In 2017, the Coastal Mainland Roosevelt Elk Recovery and Management Project (CMRERMP) came to an end and government reported that “Translocations from re-established populations on the Sechelt Peninsula and Powell River areas to other parts of the South Coast Region have been very successful in re-establishing the subspecies throughout significant portions of its former range.”  A total of 84 trapping events took place between 2000-2017 in the West and South Coast Regions, resulting in 83 translocations placing elk into historically occupied river valleys along the coastal mainland. On the Sechelt Peninsula EPU, 449 elk were captured, which was 72.3%  of the 620 grand total elk captured and translocated from all the contributing EPUs. 

Over those 17 years, populations of elk in the South Coast Region increased by an estimated 417%, or about a 10% increase per year.


In 2017, after the 449 elk were removed, from the Sechelt Peninsula EPU, the residual population was estimated to be 200, which was precisely the "target population" called for in the CMRERMP. The most recent data for 2020 shows the Sechelt EPU estimated population to be 222 elk.

During the 17 years that CMRERMP operated, government tried to manage a species that was officially designated vulnerable or sensitive, by reintroducing, transferring, or translocating that species. Sometimes as a consequence of that management, new problems may arise such as unintended consequences or confrontations, where the introduced species is branded by humans as a “pest”, or “nuisance”. These factors required constant attention, monitoring and management.

For example, in addition to specifically noting the  “Need to control elk along highway, and urban fringe”, the 2015 Management Plan includes key management objectives.  Of these,  3,4,5,6, and 7 are identified (in bold text) as applicable objectives in the Sechelt Penninsula EPU which is the “Primary source population for translocations“.


“Key management objectives 1 – 7 

1. Maintain self-sustaining populations of Roosevelt elk throughout their current range in the West Coast and South Coast Regions.

2. Re-establish Roosevelt elk in historic but unoccupied ranges where ecological conditions are suitable.

3. Maintain or restore the contribution of Roosevelt elk to natural biodiversity and ecosystem function.

4. Within the ecological limits of the species, provide opportunities for consumptive and non-consumptive use.

5. Mitigate public safety risk of vehicle collisions.

6. Mitigate crop depredation impacts on agricultural crops and market gardens.

7. Mitigate conflicts with forest management objectives.”

At the time of translocation, approximately 1 in 4  elk were fitted with either VHF or GPS tracking collars.  Of the total 620 elk translocated, 122 were collared.  These tracking collars allowed for the collection of a wide range of positional data that was highly relevant in understanding elk seasonal movements in each EPU. The collars also served as a location guide for aerial observers conducting visual population counts from helicopters during the spring. Over time as units expired, "GPS collars" were fitted via an aerial darting procedure from helicopters.  More about this technology and the aerial and gps mapping of elk movements will be available eventually in our reference section.


EPU population estimates were derived from aerial counts following RISC Standards (Aerial-Based Inventory Methods for Selected Ungulate, RISC 2002).

The Sechelt Peninsula EPU has been aerial-surveyed/counted every year up to 2022 at which point the population there was 299 elk, well above the target of 200 elk.  2023 data is not yet published.


Below is a link to “Stewardship Baseline Objectives Tools” (SBOTs) with a lot of excellent information on Roosevelt Elk and we encourage you to take a look:


Click the DASHBOARD tab at the top left. Then select “Sechelt Peninsula” from the left menu.

From this SBOT data page we cannot see any record of translocations. However we are able to see the estimated elk populations in the Sechelt Peninsula EPU:  2013=194, 2016=204, 2018=212, 2020=222, 2021=237, 2022=299.  To clarify, in 2022, for instance, 229 elk were actually observed but because there are always more elk that cannot be seen, a correction is added which results in the "estimated population" of 299.  Of the actual 229 observed elk, there were 108 cows, 34 bulls, 28 yearlings and 59 calves and so that wss the composition of our local herd(s) at that time.

The original target was to increase the Roosevelt Elk population on the south coast to 3500 but that target was later increased to 4269.  In 2022 the estimated population was 2714 and growing.

Finding a Balance Between Elk and Mankind

World-wide, there are many cases of unintended, unanticipated and negative consequences when species are introduced to new areas.  Close to home, on Haida Gwaii, unintended consequences did occur in when 20 Mountain Elk were introduced into that area in 1929/30. Not-withstanding the fact that Mountain Elk had never previously existed in that area, the introduced elk populations increased in the years after their introduction and they ranged quite broadly until a bad winter around 1969 or 1970 killed off about 90%. Studies also showed that these elk were known to feed on cedar seedlings during critical winters which may be of concern in the management of forests there.


In the mid 1900’s, the decline in elk populations meant that regulated harvest/hunting of Roosevelt elk in the South Coast Region was eventually restricted after 1972. More recently, as the Roosevelt Elk translocations proceeded and increased populations were documented, the first opening for hunting occurred during the 2001-2002 hunting season however hunting was still very limited. The First Nations Apportionment was 3 elk and Resident Authorizations totalled 6 elk.


Between 2002 and 2018 hunting was slowly opened-up as the elk populations in specific EPU’s were declared “recovered”.  By 2017-2018, limited entry hunting, harvest authorizations and harvest allocations for Roosevelt Elk in the South Coast Region (Region 2), extended to 23 EPUs. The 2017-2018 First Nations Apportionment was 52 elk (shared by 7 nations) and Resident Authorizations totalled 181 elk.

Activities or behaviour that might cause harm to humans

The Pender Harbour Golf Course opened in 1986. Roosevelt Elk began appearing there in early to mid 90s and it seemed evident that the golf course offered near-perfect habitat for the elk.  As herds repeatedly came and went, they did substantial damage to the course.  The Pender Harbour Golf Course Society undertook to raise $60,000 and with that they built a perimeter fence to protect the golf course. The 8 foot-high fence was solidly built with properly anchored steel posts and has served well.  The transportation ministry of the day also built a wooden post fence, along the side highway 101 which added elk protection along the golf course common property line.  As vexing as that situation must have seemed at the time, today we are told by a current society member, that looking back, it all feels like a “win-win”!  The elk were gently persuaded to graze elsewhere and the golf course got to retain its classic groomed look for the golfers.

Elk in the News

Vehicle Collisions:   Roosevelt Elk weigh 190 to 410 kg. Collisions between vehicles and elk on our roads can be serious and can even lead to significant injuries or fatalities. There have been public petitions calling for the installation of fencing along highways, a difficult, expensive and imperfect solution for many reasons, one being that it might interfere with the elk's natural migration corridors.


Driving on a foggy night on Highway 101 can be challenging and many residents will agree that sudden encounters with elk are not uncommon.  While most drivers may be fortunate enough to brake in time, there are times when a collision with elk is unavoidable.


For example, on Dec 3, 2018 on Hwy 101 near Madeira Park, a large elk dashed from the roadside and struck a northbound car and, after rolling off the car front windscreen, it then departed the scene leaving the car with significant damage and the driver with minor injuries.


When driving it is wise to keep in mind that elk herds do live on the Sechelt Peninsula and, if you see a single elk, there are most likely more nearby.  There really is no "win-win", if you hit an elk.

Poaching:  Here are a few poaching incidents that were published in the Coast Reporter; there may be more cases where poaching has gone undetected.


On Feb 20, 2013,  3 local men were arrested unlawfully in possession of three female Roosevelt Elk that were shot near Hwy 101 in the Pender Harbour area. Later the following charges were laid variously amongst the 3 men:  hunting wildlife out of season, hunting at night, hunting with the aid of a light or illuminating device, discharging a firearm in a no-shooting area (within the road allowance of Highway 101), hunting with-out reasonable consideration for the lives, safety or property of other persons, and possessing dead wildlife without authorization under a licence or permit, or as provided by regulation.


On March 11, 2016, Poaching resulted in one elk, with a GPS tracking collar, being shot near Sechelt Landfill. 


On Sept 13, 2017, a COS officer responded when a poacher shot and killed bull and left carcass near Middle Point-McNeil Lake Road area.


On Nov 25, 2017, a COS officer responded to a “senseless and wasteful act” when a poacher shot and killed a Roosevelt bull with a single shot and left the carcass to rot with no meat removed from the carcass.

Nuisance or Pest... or just being elk-like?

On Nov. 18, 2012, police received a report of three shots fired on Canoe Road in Pender Harbour. Police made patrols and located a resident who advised he'd set off three bear bangers in an attempt to scare off two large elk who were attacking his dog in the driveway.


On July 26, 2017, a very large 5x5 point bull was discovered entangled in a fishnet in the Egmont area. A COS officer attended and chemically immobilized the bull to allow disentanglement. The bull was released shortly after. The COS stated  that rather than using fishnet to keep animals out of gardens, electric fencing or “page wire" would be better choices as fishnet just gets tighter as the animal struggles.  


Between 2000 and 2018, the CMRERMP, designed, in part, to control nuisance elk on the Sunshine Coast, worked collaboratively with private and commercial landowners (e.g., residents, golf courses, and agricultural landowners) foresters and other government agencies (e.g., Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure) to identify specific groups of elk for translocation. In doing so, the presence and activities of the CMRERMP on the Sunshine Coast have been instrumental for increasing public awareness and tolerance of elk.

How can Humans Help and Respect

History tells us that elk have been hunted almost to extinction in North America. Today they are protected and being reintroduced or translocated into many areas by government departments with the assistance of interested public individuals, groups and organizations.  In the past century elk populations in BC have gone from being in “disarray” to a “great success”. 


Work must continue regarding elk habitat protection and enhancement, especially of winter ranges, which will help maintain herds in the future. This requires planning to integrate elk requirements with logging, agricultural development, and livestock grazing. Establishing new populations will help to secure the future for Roosevelt Elk in the province. The continued control of poaching and attention to problems such as elk dying in traffic accidents is also needed.


How can Humans Help and Respect?  The answer may centre on a very simple principle. By understanding the lifecycle of this magnificent “at risk” species and by respecting their right to live as our natural neighbours on planet Earth, our Roosevelt Elk populations will very likely continue to recover and grow as we have witnessed they can do.   

Elk are by nature reclusive but on the Sunshine Coast they are occasionally seen in small herds.  To broaden that perspective we recommend this beautiful video as it captures our Roosevelt Elk and facilitates a closer understanding of what is at stake in protecting these magnificent creatures.



Preliminary Elk Management Plan for British Columbia, Fish and Wildlife Branch, Ministry of Environment, February, 1981.


Roosevelt Elk in British Columbia, pdf published in 2000 by government of BC:


A Management Plan for Roosevelt Elk in British Columbia - published by government of BC 2015:


BC Conservation Data Centre: Conservation Status Report - Roosevelt Elk, updated 2017:


Website resource on Elk EPU population data and more, Published by government of BC.  Click the DASHBOARD tab at the top left.


Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation-Rosevelt Elk Recovery Project:


Caribou Habitat Restoration Fund Grants Available:


Roosevelt Elk Recovery Project published by Guide Outfitters Association of BC:


Review of Coastal Elk Management Projects in British Columbia

UBC Forestry Grad essay by Jerin Hobbs, 2013.



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