BONNERS FERRY — A daring rescue by local farmers saved a pair of young cow elk from an icy grave during one of the snowiest days of the winter Monday.
When Ty Iverson, who leases farmland from The Nature Conservancy heard from U.S. Postal Service mailman Lowell Graber that four cow elk had fallen through the ice in the 5,000-acre wetland portion of TNC’s property, he sprang into action along with neighbor John Lefebvre..
When Iverson and Lefebvre got to the scene, they spoke with some onlookers with Washington plates who told them the group originally included a bull elk, but he had been able to pull himself out of the hole and escape.
They told the farmers that they had called Fish and Game, but had been informed that nature was taking its course and that there was nothing they could do to help.
Iverson and neighbors John and Bill Lefebvre decided that they couldn’t stand by while the young elk struggled in the freezing water, so they decided that they would head up to the scene to see what they could do.
“By the time we got up there, three employees from Elk Mountain Farms had stopped and were already trying to help,” Iverson said. “Don Allenburg was clear out to the edge of the ice by himself trying to rope the elk out of the water.”
Iverson, the Lefebvres and Elk Mountain employee John Solt made their way out onto the ice to assist Allenburg with the rescue efforts. Mick Atkins joined them a little while later to bring the rescue crew to a gang of six.
“The recovery effort was a long, painstaking process,” Iverson said. “One by one, Don was able to catch an elk with the rope and then we would all pull together on the rope to drag them out. The animals were in pretty bad shape when they came out of the water. They were so cold and exhausted that they couldn’t even move their legs, let alone stand up.”
Once the first elk was pulled from the water, the others began swimming toward the men, perhaps recognizing that they were their only chance to survive the ordeal. Part way through the rescue, neighbor Phil Drewson showed up with a big bag of towels.
“This was a big help because when we would get an animal up on the ice, we would rub them down with the towels in an effort to dry them off and get blood to start circulating,” Iverson said.
Two of the young elk were so exhausted and hypothermic that they couldn’t be revived, Iverson said, and the farmers were unable to save them. But after rubbing the other two down constantly for an hour or so, the men were able to get the elk to stand. Another hour or so later, the elk were able to take their first tentative steps.
“They were so disoriented that we had to keep blocking them from walking back into the same hole,” Iverson said. “One actually got past us and fell back in, and we had to pull her out a second time!”
By the time the men finished the rescue, it was getting dark and everyone was cold and tired.
“We were really bummed that we couldn’t save those two that froze, but we made some calls are were able to find some families in need of meat that came and salvaged the meat the next morning,” Iverson said.
“It was really cool to see everyone come together to try to save the animals. Don Allenburg is really the one who led the charge, I can’t believe he went all the way out there by himself on the ice at first to try to pull them out. The rest of us pretty much just followed Don’s lead. I was glad I could be a part of it.”