A plan 44 years in the making is finally coming to fruition and wildlife officials, hunters and conservationists in the state of West Virginia are thrilled. Originally penned back in 1972, West Virginia’s first Elk Reintroduction Feasibility Report was published after elk were eradicated in the state back in the late 1800’s.
The 1972 plan was eventually put on the shelf citing inadequate range, crop damage, competition with other wildlife and other factors. It was not until 2005 when the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (WVDNR) contracted the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry to evaluate the elk habitat suitability of the West Virginia landscape.
Funded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the report identified three large core regions within the state that had the best potential for elk restoration. The following ten-or-so years saw the planning of the project begin to take form, as DNR officials began laying out the site of the proposed three-acre holding pen inside the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area.
“We’re planning for a soft release once we get our elk,” Randy Kelley, the DNR’s elk restoration project leader told The Charleston Gazette-Mail. “They’ll be kept in our pen for anywhere from five days to up to two weeks, to get the adrenaline out of their systems after being trucked here, and to give them time to re-establish their hierarchy. When we think they’re ready, we’ll open the gate and let them wander out and then back in for food and water, until they decide to stay out on their own.”
Last week, the WVDNR announced plans for a dedication ceremony, marking the reintroduction of the elk. The ceremony has been scheduled to take place in a week from now on Monday, December 19, 2016 at 1:30pm.
The elk that are set to be released in West Virginia were captured in neighboring Kentucky, whose elk herd has swelled to over 10,000 animals since reintroduction in the Bluegrass State began back in 2007. While there has been reported sightings of elk in West Virginia in recent years – who were the product of Kentucky’s reintroduction efforts – Kelley and many residents are looking forward to calling in one of their soon-to-be native elk in the very near future.