Early in the morning on Monday, Feb. 24, an elk lay suffering by the side of the Houston Mesa Road, a victim of a hit and run.
So a tragic story began, with a perplexing end for both the elk and Whispering Pines resident Don Ascoli.
The motorist sped off from the scene of the accident, but Ascoli’s daughter ran across to the still-breathing elk at 6:20 in the morning as she drove to work.
“At 6:20 a.m. Monday my daughter heading to work drives on Houston Mesa Road and at the intersection of Juniper Drive and Houston Mesa Road in the ditch on the west side of the road sees a live elk cow in the ditch,” said Ascoli. “She calls to tell us what she saw.”
Half an hour later, Ascoli’s granddaughter drives by the wounded animal and calls Ascoli again to tell him that the cow is still alive.
Ascoli decided he had to do something. So he called the Gila County Sheriff’s Office, who directed him to call the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
By 7:20, Ascoli called Game and Fish, and an officer took a report.
And that’s when Ascoli learned about the law that turned this situation into an eyesore and potential safety hazard.
“I asked him if it was possible to claim the elk for meat once AZGF (Arizona Game and Fish) put the elk out of its misery,” said Ascoli. “He said he would pass the request to the local Game and Fish ranger who could decide to do it. I was advised by Jeff (the Game and Fish officer that took his call) that legally only the person who hit the elk could claim it and take it out of the ditch. The person who hit it could also pass the salvage permit to another person, but there wasn’t a regular way for the permit to go to anyone asking for the game.”
Ascoli decided to head out to the scene and arrived by 8 a.m. He discovered the elk was still alive, but clearly suffering.
“The elk was alive with its head up but you could see the bruises behind the shoulder where it had been hit and it was snorting blood from its nose,” he said.
At the same time Ascoli arrived, the fire chief of Whispering Pines Ron Sattelmaier and another man interested in claiming the elk showed up.
But Sattelmaier told the two men neither one of them could harvest the elk meat, since neither could prove they had hit the elk.
Worse, Sattelmaier said no one there could take the elk out of its misery, only a Game and Fish officer.
Finally, at 8:55 a.m. a sheriff’s deputy arrived and said the Game and Fish officer was not available, so he shot the elk. He said the men could not take any of the meat because of the law.
Ascoli said he was relieved to see that the officer did call the county roads department to remove the carcass.
However nine hours later, Ascoli still saw the carcass still by the side of the road.
“At 6:14 p.m., I drove by site and could already see some of the effects of the crows and ravens pecking on the dead elk,” said Ascoli. “I had expected it to be removed and it still was in the ditch.”
But it only got worse.
Some 24 hours later, the carcass remained — much deteriorated.
“The varmints, maybe even coyotes, had done a good job of eating and cleaning the meat from the bones,” he said. “You can see the rib cage and guts of the elk in the ditch.”
Upset and frustrated, he called the Game and Fish headquarters in Mesa.
“At 1:50 p.m., having seen that the elk was still in the ditch, I called AZGF Headquarters in Mesa. I first talked to the Region 6 supervisor Rod Lucas (480-981-9400),” said Ascoli.
Lucas said the law did not allow Ascoli to harvest the elk. Ascoli said the law needed to change, then.
Lucas said Ascoli needed to get in touch with Payson-area Ranger Dave Daniels.
That’s just what Ascoli did. “I told him that the elk was still in the ditch; that it is a health hazard to the Whispering Pines community with all kinds of animals being attracted to the carcass,” said Ascoli. “It was also a safety hazard as I had seen cars going by slow down to see the carcass. And I said it was inhumane to have such an animal just sit out in the road ditch for days. Dan said he would call the county again to get the remains removed.”
As of Friday, Ascoli reported the elk remains were still present by the side of the road.
Ascoli plans to try to force a change in the salvage law.