The decomposing remains of 19 dead elk that emerged last summer from melting snow above No Name Lake near Broken Top have tainted the water quality of the lake, making it especially undrinkable if not filtered.
Wildlife officials say the contaminated water from the dead elk herd highlights the importance of filtering water on hikes before drinking it.
Jean Nelson-Dean, spokeswoman for the Deschutes National Forest, said the dead herd is an extreme example, but other animals are often dying and decomposing near lakes and rivers.
“There are lots of things that are regularly decaying in our water bodies,” said Nelson-Dean. “The elk are just a more obvious example.”
Nelson-Dean said people should also consider there is likely human and dog waste near waterways as well.
“Our bottom line is be prepared to filter your water when you are out in the woods,” she said.
In early August last year, hikers reported seeing the dead elk, which became visible as snow melted near the lake and along its rocky slope.
Wildlife officials determined the elk had been covered by a large avalanche of snow as they attempted to cross the steep slope. The avalanche likely happened in summer 2017 after the historic snowfall in the winter of 2016-17, officials said.
The elk, including bulls, cows and calves, had broken limbs, antlers and torn hides, and their bodies were twisted and contorted. They were completely preserved under the snow until it melted last summer.
All the elk were left in place for the past year because it was too dangerous for wildlife officials to remove them.
“In the wilderness, we allow natural processes to occur,” Nelson-Dean said. “We are not going to go up and remove those elk.”
Field rangers with the national forest reported recently that insects and other animals have eaten all the flesh off the dead elk. All that remains are decaying hides, skeletons, hooves and fur, Nelson-Dean said.
It could take another year before all the remains are fully decomposed.
“Because of how long they will stay under snow, our field rangers thought that it might be another year or so before everything breaks down,” Nelson-Dean said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, firstname.lastname@example.org