In the rainforest valleys of Olympic National Park, you may glimpse the largest land mammal in the park: Roosevelt Elk.
Darker and larger than Rocky Mountain elk, a bull can weigh 1,000 pounds. Only males grow antlers, shedding them each spring before growing new ones in summer. Throughout the year, look for groups of cows, calves and young bulls grazing in old homestead fields. During the fall rut, bulls attempt to gather harems of up to 30 cows with which to breed. High, squealing bugles echo through the valley as bulls challenge one another for dominance.
Elk browse understory vegetation, creating the open, park-like character of the forest. The broad west side valley bottoms are ideal habitat, and elk populations here are larger and less migratory than those on the east side.
These elk have survived many changes. By the end of the 19th century, elk had nearly disappeared from this last frontier. President Theodore Roosevelt, after whom they are named, established Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909 to protect elk from overhunting. By the time the park was established in 1938, elk populations had rebounded.
Today about 5,000 elk are protected in Olympic National Park. Herds that move outside the park face hunting and habitat loss or degradation. But here in the park's rainforest valleys, the prospects look good for elk. They will continue to shape their forest homes and thrill visitors.