Elk were a native species in Missouri until about 1865, when the cumulative effects of excessive hunting and habitat destruction wiped them out. Now the State of Missouri Conservation Department is planning to release about 150 elk in southern Missouri.
A 346 square mile elk restoration zone will be their new home. Peck Ranch Conservation Area is part of the zone, which is 23,048 acres of rugged, forested hills and hollows. It was also a restoration project once, due to abuse of its forests and lands during a period when it was used for making iron. Since the 1990s the open woodlands and scattered pastures have been improved to make suitable habitat for wild animals. The total elk zone will be over 200,000 acres.
Early in 2011 is likely when the elk will be released. Conservation officials recommend the elk be evaluated for health problems before the full release and also plan to fit the elk with radio collars and microchips.
Conservation officials will use the technology to closely monitor their status. The health of individuals and population size will need to be watched in order to help the elk.
The State’s plan includes hunting of the elk, once their population becomes established. This provision seems peculiar, especially for a reintroduced native species in a very small population. That it exists, suggests the elk reintroduction project is not exclusively about animal conservation. Hunting is an activity associated with high economic value. The Missouri elk management plan is using Kentucky as a model, where elk are hunted.
The plan says, “Elk hunting is popular in eastern states with successful restoration programs. In 2009, more than 6,000 individuals applied for an elk permit in Arkansas and over 46,000 applied for an elk tag in Kentucky.” (Source: Page 5)
The start-up cost for trapping wild elk, and their transportation evaluation, release and monitoring has been estimated to be $411,000. So there is a push to use hunting as a way to pay for all the elks’ costs. However, tourism from elk viewing also can generate money. According to the state’s plan, “Elk viewing areas and/or educational centers have been established in other states and thousands of visitors generate considerable revenue for local economies.” (Source: Page 6)
Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin have all successfully released wild elk. Only North Carolina and Wisconsin forbid elk hunting. Kentucky has the largest elk population of the above states, with 11,000.
Image Credit: Mila Zinkova