Ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Missouri Elk Restoration Gets a Boost

Photos courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation
The numbers just didn’t add up. Thirty-nine elk boarded a livestock trailer in Kentucky bound for Missouri. When they arrived at their final destination on the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) Peck Ranch Conservation Area, 40 elk got off. Somewhere along the nearly 500-mile trek, a newborn bull calf entered the world.

The relocation is the latest effort backed by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to restore elk to their native range. RMEF provided funds and bodies in the form of RMEF volunteers to help at holding facilities in both Kentucky and Missouri. RMEF also helped pay for the capture and care of the Kentucky elk (see video below). 

RMEF Volunteers
As many as 10 million elk once covered almost the entire United States and parts of Canada. Explorers, trappers and settlers depended on elk for food and clothing. Eventually overhunting coupled with habitat loss took a harsh toll. Elk herds were completely wiped out east of the Mississippi River by the late 1800s. By 1900, approximately 90,000 elk remained mostly in Yellowstone Park and a few other western hideouts. 

Prompted by requests from its citizens, the MDC conducted an elk restoration feasibility study in 2000. Results showed the public supported elk restoration and that portions of the Ozark Mountains were biologically feasible for such an effort. However, fears over chronic wasting disease (CWD) temporarily delayed on efforts. Several things changed for the better just a few years later. Researchers developed a live elk test for CWD; workers improved habitat; successful elk restoration efforts took place in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania; and renewed interest from citizens combined with support from the RMEF triggered action. In July 2010, the MDC Commission summarized the situation and directed staffers to reinstate the reintroduction plan. 

Absent since 1865, elk returned to the Ozark Mountains in May of 2011 and relocation efforts continued with additional shipments in May 2012 and again in May 2013. Since 2011, the MDC released 109 elk to the 12,000 acre Peck Ranch Conservation Area which lies within the 221,000 acre elk restoration zone. Missouri’s goal is to release up to 150 elk and grow the herd to 400-500 animals.
That brings us back to the latest shipment of elk from Kentucky—20 adult cows, 16 yearling cows, three yearling bulls and the newborn calf. “The animals were very rowdy on the double-decker cow hauler and the truck was literally rocking as it backed up to the unloading dock,” said Dave Pace, RMEF Missouri state chair. “Once off the truck, the animals were segregated into separate pens with the three bulls being penned separately. The cows settled pretty well and started eating the knee high clover. But the young bulls were very unsettled and were still running around in their pen when we left the area.” 

The elk will stay in holding pens for several weeks as they get used to their new surroundings. Several cows are expected to deliver in the pens with several dozen new calves expected this spring. The refuge will remain closed to the public until July but will open for driving tours later this summer. 

Leave it to Dave Pace to sum things up for his fellow RMEF volunteers and his home state, “Missouri sportsmen and other outdoor lovers owe a great big THANK YOU to the MDC, the RMEF and to YOU GUYS for your hard work in making these reintroductions a success! It was another great day in MISSOURI ELK COUNTRY!”

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