Billings Gazette

Volunteers Grab Their Gear and Rescue Elk Herd from Icy Grave

A group of around 20 people joined forces, got out their chainsaws and lassos, and rescued a small elk herd that had fallen through the ice.

If you needed your faith in humanity restored, this is just the story to do it. A group of aroun volunteers, including citizens, wildlife biologists and law enforcement personnel, pooled their resources and saved a small herd of elk from drowning.

Around a dozen elk were crossing a frozen section of the Palisades Reservoir when the ice gave way.

Were it not for several concerned citizens who witnessed the struggling elk, they surely wouldn't have made it out alive.

People driving by the spot noticed the elk around 7 a.m. and immediately began calling authorities. Some of them pulled over, got out and began trying to formulate a plan to rescue the elk.

"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," said Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist Gary Fralick.

Some volunteers tied straps to themselves for safety and began using chainsaws to cut a path from the elk to the shore. Others grabbed shovels and removed snow and ice from the watery path the chainsaws created.

However, as they got closer to shore the ice got thicker—up to 2 feet thick—the chainsaws became useless. So, some folks got ropes and lassoed the elk, and together they heaved the exhausted animals out of the frigid water.

The entire rescue reportedly took around 45 minutes.

Two elk calves were so exhausted they had to be loaded onto a backhoe and taken to a feedground. They reportedly recovered their strength some time later.

"Without that many people helping, many more elk would have died," Fralick 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."

Here's a video of part of the rescue, taken by Dusty Jones:

Two years ago, a herd of around 30 elk suffered the same catastrophe and broke through the ice on Palisades Reservoir. Unfortunately, those animals did not make it and all were lost.

Like what you see here? You can read more great articles by David Smith at his Facebook page, Stumpjack Outdoors.