RENSSELAER COUNTY -- Two elk owned by a Clifton Park resident who operates the Easton View Outfitters hunting ranch in Valley Falls had to be shot and killed after the animals escaped from the ranch.
Dave Vanderzee, who owns the hunting enclosure and neighboring lodge, put out a call on social media for assistance in finding two grown elk that had escaped after last Saturday's heavy storms caused damage to a fence on the property.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation allows a window of 48 hours during which owners have a chance to recapture escaped elk and certain other animals that may help spread disease.
If the animal has not been recovered within the 48 hours, the agency typically intervenes in the search and destroys the animals, Vanderzee explained on Monday.
"One of the risks of having these beautiful creatures is when there are natural disasters, they may leave their enclosure," he said.
Vanderzee, who said he received an "overwhelming" response to the elk post on social media, found the animals on a neighboring farm seven miles from his property but not able to recapture them. The owner of the farm, under the supervision of the DEC, shot the animals while they were eating in the farm's alfalfa fields.
"The local farmers did it so the DEC didn't have to," Vanderzee said. "They did assist, and supervised and made sure all of the proper protocols were taken."
Easton View Outfitters offers hunting for whitetail deer, elk, fallow deer, sika deer, hogs, rams and pheasants. Vanderzee calls the ranch "a crazy and wild dream" of his.
But with the hunting lodge comes a slew of state regulations and licensing procedures that business owners and farmers, including Vanderzee, must comply with, including shooting escaped animals if bringing them back withing 48 hours is impossible. The animals are destroyed to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease, a contagious neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose.
Once the escaped animals are dead, they are then tested for the disease, Vanderzee said.
Research is being conducted to find a way to test for the disease while animals are alive, he said.
Vanderzee said the perimeters of his range are regularly checked to prevent escapes, but the weekend storm caused the escape. He said there are other methods that can be used to capture escaped animals, such as lacing food with sedatives, but that often requires more than 48 hours.
"We raised those animals. They're basically family," he said. "I wish we have a better ending to the story, but there are protocols. In the end, that didn't work out," he said.