By Ann McCreary

State wildlife officials are investigating the apparent poaching of a cow elk, after finding a severed head on Sept. 22 that appeared to be deliberately placed next to a U.S. Forest Service road in the Fawn Creek area.

“The disembodied head was neatly placed on the gravel embankment just off the maintained portion of the roadway,” said Jason Day a police officer with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “From our perspective, the elk head looks intentionally placed at a prominent location on the roadway as either a gruesome joke or public taunt of the game wardens.”

WDFW police responded after a citizen reported seeing the elk head, Day said. There was no open elk hunting season in the area at the time the head was discovered, Day said. WDFW police are investigating the incident as poaching.

“Elk are infrequent visitors to the Methow Valley,” Day said. “A lone adult cow was repeatedly observed along State Route 20 grazing with whitetail deer in the Big Valley Wildlife Area between Mazama and Winthrop throughout the spring and early summer of this year.”

It’s not known if the head found in Fawn Creek might be that cow. “There was one last spring and summer in the Big Valley and now I’ve got an elk head lying on the embankment,” Day said. The jaw and teeth have been submitted for further analysis, he said.

While elk hunting was not open in the Methow Valley when the head was found, there are archery elk hunting seasons underway east of the Okanogan River and around Wenatchee, Day said.

“It’s possible a hunter killed an elk in an open unit, then traveled to the Methow to hunt deer and left the remains of the butchered elk as an afterthought. It’s also possible a hunter thought archery elk was open statewide and killed the animal on Fawn Creek assuming it was legal to do so,” he said.

“Whatever the case may be, we have to treat it as poaching,” Day said. The Goat, Fawn and Cub Creek drainages “are high-traffic areas for illegal activity,” he said. Examination of the head indicates the elk had died not long before the head was found. No carcass or other remains have been found, Day said.

Elk hunting is open in the Methow Valley in early November, Day said. The closest herd is found near Loup Loup Pass, he said.

Poaching a cow elk is a gross misdemeanor that can result in a two-year suspension of hunting rights, up to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail. It also carries a civil penalty of $2,000.

Wildlife officers are asking anyone with information to contact Day at (509) 631-0903, or the Washington State Patrol at (509) 422-3800.