RMEF Helping Missouri Restore Elk

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A national elk-conservation group whose support for elk restoration in Missouri dates back more than a decade is making good on its promise to financially support the current restoration effort.

Tom Jones, Senior Regional Director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), says the group already has raised enough money to begin paying for construction of an elk holding pen in Kentucky. The pen will hold elk during a precautionary quarantine period before they are relocated to Missouri.

"We are very grateful to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for its long-standing support of elk restoration in Missouri," said Department of Conservation Director Bob Ziehmer. "Now that we are ready to move forward, the RMEF has wasted no time putting resources behind the effort."

Ziehmer said partnerships between government and citizen conservation groups make it possible to achieve things far beyond their separate means.

"It is a model that has proven successful time and again and is responsible for America’s greatest conservation success stories," said Ziehmer.

The RMEF, headquartered in Missoula, Mont., invested $61,123.50 to provide financial support for elk restoration in 2000, when the Missouri Conservation Commission first considered the idea. The Commission shelved the original plan in 2001 over concerns about adequate elk habitat and chronic wasting disease. In October of this year, the Commission approved a revised elk-restoration plan that addresses these concerns. The RMEF immediately began fundraising efforts to help implement the plan, and those efforts continue.

"Our volunteers and membership have worked tirelessly over the last 26 years to raise money to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat," said Jones. "What a tremendous conservation accomplishment this will be to restore elk back to the Show-Me State after a 150-year absence. The Elk Foundation is proud to be able to step forward and actually put money 'on the ground' for this project. No doubt, our strong volunteer core and membership base will continue to work hard to raise additional funds to leave this important wildlife legacy."

Missouri's restoration plan calls for releasing up to 150 elk in a 346-square-mile area spanning parts of Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties. The Conservation Department selected this limited restoration zone because of extensive public lands, suitable habitat, low road density, minimal agricultural activity and landowner support.

Construction of a holding pen in Kentucky will begin later this month. Trapping of elk is expected to begin in late December or early January. Trapped elk will remain in the Kentucky holding pen to meet the health testing protocol. Once in Missouri, they will be kept in a holding pen at Peck Ranch Conservation Area (CA) to allow them to acclimate to the area. Construction of the pen at Peck Ranch will take place in January. If all goes according to plan, the first elk could be released into the wild at Peck Ranch CA in late April or early May.

"It is very exciting to see these plans moving forward," said Department of Conservation Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen. "We are confident that we have adequately addressed all the concerns about elk restoration, and many Missourians are excited about the prospect of having this native animal back in Missouri after an absence of more than 100 years."

The elk-restoration plan is available at http://bit.ly/i6Pxhy.