CASPER, Wyo. — About a dozen elk were roped, lassoed and dragged to safety Friday morning after they fell through the ice into Palisades Reservoir.
A group of more than 20 concerned citizens, law enforcement officers, wildlife biologists and others gathered between 7 and 8 a.m. after morning commuters outside Alpine noticed elk struggling in the reservoir, said Gary Fralick, a wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
"I was heading to work going to Jackson and saw a cop and one other truck pulled over," said Alpine resident Dusty Jones. "Then I saw them out there on the ice on the Palisades with a herd of elk."
The group of cows and calves were moving onto the Alpine Feedground early Friday morning when they walked across the edge of the reservoir where typically there would be dry ground. Calls began coming into the local Game and Fish and sheriff’s offices from people driving by.
“A number of people responded to it and proceeded to chip and chain saw and ice auger a pathway through the ice to the shoreline,” Fralick said.
But because the ice was 2 feet thick in places, people could not cut a line all the way to shore, which meant they had to rope and lasso the elk and pull them onto the ice and to safety. The extraction took about 45 minutes. Cow elk weigh between 550 and 700 pounds. Wet, they weigh even more.
Two calves who did not immediately recover because of exhaustion were loaded into a backhoe and taken to the feedground. Fralick said they were standing shortly after.
While herds of elk have been known to fall through the ice — about 30 died two years ago on Palisades — this is the first time in more than 25 years working for the department that Fralick can remember that many elk being saved.
“Without that many people helping, many more elk would have died,” he said. “People were trying to pull elk out of the water while people were sawing through ice to make a pathway to the shoreline. It was a big team effort to try and get them out of the ice.”