PALISADES RESERVOIR, Idaho -- Around two dozen people jumped into action Friday morning when a herd of elk suddenly fell through the ice at Palisades Reservoir.
The incident happened around 7:30 a.m. near the Alpine Feed Ground in Alpine, Wyoming. Temperatures were near 32 degrees when the animals suddenly dropped into the freezing water.
“I was headed into Jackson to go to work and I noticed a couple cars pulled over,” Dusty Jones tells EastIdahoNews.com. “I looked off to the left and saw a couple of guys beating on the ice with a herd of elk right there in front of them.”
Jones ran down to the ice and called a friend to bring him a chainsaw. There were around a dozen elk in the frigid water, which Jones says measured 8-10 feet deep, and suddenly people started appearing to help.
“Before you knew it, there were 30-40 people there,” Jones said. “We began cutting a little path toward the shore so the animals could walk out but they were so cold they couldn’t move. That’s when we just started grabbing them and pulling them out.”
Officials with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department and deputies with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office were on hand to help. Good Samaritans with crowbars, ice augers, chainsaws, tow straps, ropes and other equipment worked to free the animals.
“Somebody had a backhoe that we were able to put two calves into the bucket and transport them to the Alpine Feed Ground,” Wyoming Game & Fish Biologist Gary Fralick told SVI’s Dan Dockstader.
Jones worried the ice might collapse but said it was around 4 inches thick and nobody fell in. The elk just happened to be standing in an area where the ice was thinner due to thermal spring action, according to Fralick.
“There normally isn’t any water there at all,” Jones said. “We had so much snow last winter that lake runoff caused this part of the reservoir to be full all summer and fall.”
One by one, each of the 13 elk was pulled to safety. Two of the calves were severely stressed and could not get up, according to Fralick. Once they were taken to another area, they were released and stood up with the rest of the herd.
“No elk died, which is awesome,” Jones said. “It was such a great thing. We lost 30 elk three years ago that broke through the ice and they all drowned.”
Fralick credits community members for helping with the situation and said if nobody had stopped, several of the animals likely would have died.
“There’s no way the Game and Fish Department alone could have made this work with the number of elk that were in the ice.” Fralick said. “It was totally impressive to watch. I applaud the community support in this effort.”