Restored Kentucky Elk Populations Being Shared with Other States

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Now that Kentucky’s elk population has been successfully restored, the state is unafraid to share its “natural” wealth. While Wisconsin is still rewriting its elk management plan and hoping to receive elk from Kentucky soon, elk restoration is already underway in southwestern Virginia with support from Kentucky.

On Friday, May 18, hundreds of spectators came to watch 11 elk from Kentucky being transferred to a 5-acre holding pen in Buchanan County, Virginia. The elk will acclimate to their surroundings in the pen before being released into the wild.

These elk were just the first of 75 that will be brought to the county during the next three years. Supporters who were in attendance at the release were excited. The project was a culmination of a few years’ efforts between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

The RMEF paid for nearly all of the $300,000 that was needed for materials and supplies to make the project possible. A former member of the DGIF Board of Directors, Charles Yates, received a call from a farmer one day who wondered why there wasn’t more being done to spur elk growth in Virginia. Yates then went to neighboring Kentucky where a successful elk reintroduction program grew the population to 10,000. Just 17 years ago, Kentucky received 1,500 elk from six western states and began its successful restoration program. In addition to “planted” elk, Kentucky’s herds are expanding to neighboring Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri.

Attendees at the release from RMEF said they envision a day when wildlife enthusiasts will have an opportunity for a limited hunting season if the herd is stable enough.

More Elk from Kentucky to Wisconsin

Kevin Wallenfang, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Big-game Ecologist, said Wisconsin would like to benefit from Kentucky’s fortunes as well.

“Kentucky has lots of elk. Their reintroduction was hugely successful, they have no disease issues, they have elk to spare – which is hard to find right now in a disease-free state – and they said they are going to be in the elk-moving business for some time,” Wallenfang said in an interview with Outdoor News. “They were excited to have us come down there.”

While there is little disease in Kentucky, officials do not take the matter lightly when transferring elk state to state. Virginia was supposed to receive 15 elk captured this winter, but as they were in quarantine, some tested positive for blue tongue disease and were left in the Kentucky holding corral.

Cognizant of the risks and required procedures, Wisconsin has begun the process of moving elk to the state. Kentucky is willing to participate and capture, holding and testing corrals paid for by RMEF may be used by Wisconsin. The elk management plan they are currently rewriting has to be reviewed by sportsmen and approved by Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board.

If approved, the state could begin receiving elk from Kentucky by 2014. Wisconsin would like to replenish its herd at Clam Lake and establish a new herd in Jackson County.

The herd at Clam Lake in the Chequamegon National Forest in northern Wisconsin has been struggling to grow for the past five to eight years. At the beginning of this year’s calving season, there were only about 153 animals known to still be alive, which is down from a previous population of 180. Calf survival has not reached earlier levels and adult elk continue to die out because of predators and encounters with motor vehicles.

Experts anticipate that the plan will move forward with no problems, as Kentucky’s counterpart to Wisconsin’s Natural Resources Board has already approved the plan. If approved, Wisconsin could get as many as 50 Kentucky elk per year over the course of the next several years.

Photo: Larry Lamsa (Larry1732, flickr)