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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Laying the Groundwork for a West Virginia Elk Reintroduction

The table is set, the welcome mat is rolled out (although not officially) and now all that’s needed is for the invitations to go out and be accepted. That about sums up what’s going on in West Virginia, the latest state looking to reintroduce elk within its borders.

Truth be told, there are already elk in West Virginia—a few of them anyway. Some elk from Kentucky’s nearby thriving herd of 10,000-plus already crossed state lines but West Virginia wildlife officials want to bolster a herd to call their own. 

Sgt. Terry Ballard, RMEF Regional Director
Bill Carman, RMEF WV State Chair Brian
Satterfield and DNR Biologist Randy Kelley
(left to right)
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is doing its part to support the return of elk to their native range in the Mountain State. RMEF recently presented the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with a $50,000 seed grant to be applied toward reintroduction. The donation is the most recent move to further the cause. 

In 2014, RMEF designated West Virginia an “elk state” by awarding $20,000 for a habitat project to enhance forage and create wildlife water sources at the Panther Wildlife Management Area. In 2011, DNR completed a “passive” elk management plan and declared an “elk zone designation.” In 2005, RMEF carried out a feasibility study or, in other words, a biological assessment of potential habitat and the social feasibility of restoring elk to West Virginia’s landscape.

Historically, the elk population in West Virginia declined throughout the 1800’s because of subsistence hunting, market hunting and wide scale timber removal by European settlers. The last native elk on record was in Pocahontas County in 1873 and the Webster Springs area of Webster County in 1875. A 1913 effort to reintroduce 50 elk into West Virginia from Yellowstone Park ultimately failed.

Holding pen used during Virginia's elk restoration
That brings us back to 2015 when returning elk to West Virginia’s southern coalfields is not yet a done deal but does look promising. Two public hearings held in 2014 show 95 percent of those who submitted public comment did so in favor of reintroduction. There is also a bill before the legislature to enable the process. Negotiations are underway with land companies to allow public access to where the herd would be located plus the quarantine pen used in Virginia’s elk restoration effort would need to be moved across the border to West Virginia. However the biggest task for DNR is reaching an agreement with Kentucky to trap and transport elk.

“Restoring these things is not an easy task. It’s all going to depend on how many elk we can secure to release,” said Curtis Taylor, DNR wildlife resources section chief. “There is a passion in the southern part of the state for wildlife of any kind — elk in particular.”

And RMEF remains ready to stand by to offer more assistance in the effort.

See West Virginia’s proposed Elk Management Plan here.

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