Bailey’s Pace: Restoring Elk to Southern West Virginia

You may not know that West Virginia is bringing in elk. But what does that mean for our state?

According to state wildlife officials, they have reached an agreement with officials at Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes Elk and Bison Prairie to bring as many as 150 elk to the Mountain State by 2019.

Paul Johansen, wildlife chief for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, said agency workers trapped the animals, verified that they were disease-free and later transported them to the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area, in Logan County.

“This is one of the greatest conservation opportunities West Virginia has experienced in many, many years,” Johansen said. “This is one of the largest conservation efforts I’ve seen in my 30-plus-year career working with this agency. This is wildlife restoration at its best, and we’re very proud of it.”

According to wvgazettemail.com, “Elk were once found all across West Virginia, but market hunting and habitat loss caused their numbers to rapidly decline. The state’s last elk was killed in Webster County, on the headwaters of the Elk River, in 1875. They’ve been gone from the landscape ever since.”

They continue that once the elk are caught, they are kept in a 3-acre pen to allow them to adjust to their surroundings. Randy Kelley, the DNR’s elk project leader, said the animals’ stay in the pen can be as short as four days or as long as two weeks. After the acclimation period, the elk will be released to roam the hills and hollows of Southwestern West Virginia.

Johansen said the actual number of animals will depend on how many of the 700-pound animals can be trapped. Genders are to be distributed evenly between males and females, and in a range of age-classes. Efforts have begun, and 24 of the animals are already in West Virginia acclimating to the state’s climate. But more are to come.

Biologists expect them to eventually occupy most of the state’s Elk Management Area, which includes all of Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties, as well as parts of Boone, Lincoln and Wayne. The DNR’s ultimate goal is to establish a population large enough to allow for hunting. Current plans estimate for a total of 150 elk to be released by 2019 at two sites.

West Virginia officials expect the animals to thrive in state’s Southwestern counties, which have similar habitat to Eastern Kentucky. In addition to the revenue generated from sales of hunting licenses, Kentucky’s elk have brought in millions of dollars from wildlife-watching tourists.

Johansen expects the same to happen in the Mountain State. “There will be benefits for our citizens, hunters, and non-hunters alike,” he said. “Restoring elk to Southern West Virginia will bring economic benefits to the surrounding communities. It’s a very positive project that local citizens have already embraced.” photo source: wideopenspaces.com

– Bailey Pace, HashtagWV #85. January 2017

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