A History of Native Elk in Mount Rainier National Park
The following conclusions may be drawn from the evidence that has
1) There is considerable circumstantial evidence, in the form of
anthropological and archeological information, that elk were native to
the region very near and presumably in the present park area.
2) There is some evidence that influences of white men on native
tribes in the earliest period of cultural contactabout 1730 to
1830may have contributed to a reduction of elk numbers in the area
around Mount Rainier, but the evidence does not suggest that a wholesale
reduction of elk numbers occurred at that time.
3) Accounts of the mountain and nearby lands by early white visitors,
explorers, and climbers (before 1900) almost never mentioned elk, and
when they did it was only vaguely, so that it is difficult to tell if
any of the writers actually saw an elk within the present
4) Elk were considered low in numbers throughout the Cascades by many
observers by the 1890s; the limited available evidence indicates that
elk numbers were also low in the Cascades when the first white settlers
5) Competent observers reported very small numbers of elk on the
western, southern, and eastern sides of the park shortly after 1900. It
would appear from these reports that elk were native to the park at the
time of its establishment, and that these reports buttress the earlier
accounts of elk mentioned in 3 above.
6) Use of the park area by introduced Rocky Mountain elk in the
decades immediately following 1912 may be seen as additional evidence
that the area was similarly used by native elk in earlier times.
7) Reports by competent observers suggest that native elk never
entirely disappeared from the eastern and southern parts of the park,
thus "blending" with introduced animals in the years after 1912.
8) Levels of impact now being measured due to elk use of the park
cannot be totally regarded as departures from some "pristine" condition
because accounts from all historical periods since the beginning of
serious exploration indicate animal impact on park vegetation.
Leopold et al. (1963) proposed that "the biotic associations within
each park be maintained, or where necessary recreated, as nearly as
possible in the condition that prevailed when the area was first visited
by white men. A national park should represent a vignette of primitive
America." Mount Rainier National Park provides a stimulating example of
how difficult this proposal can be to fulfill; furthermore it reveals a
potential weakness in the proposal, because the park area as seen by the
first white men to enter it was not necessarily the park area as it was
before it felt the influence of white men. Horses arrived in the
Yakima Valley a full century before Dr. Tolmie crossed the present park
boundary on his botanizing excursion, and firearms preceded him by more
than a decade. What influences these had on animal populations within
the park can hardly even be estimated, but they could only have reduced
them if they had any influence at all.
In summary, then, it appears that elk were native to Mount Rainier,
and may have been so in all major drainages, the White River drainage
being the most doubtfully represented in the historical record. From
the time of the first visits by whites to the present park area in the
early 1800s on, elk numbers were apparently low; they were so uncommon
as to be virtually never seen by the occasional traveler in their