JEFFERSON CITY – If you are excited, concerned or just interested in the possibility of returning elk to the Show-Me State, now is the time to express your feelings about the issue.
In July, the conservation commission directed the conservation department to develop a proposed plan for releasing between 80 and 150 elk into a 365-square-mile restoration zone around the Peck Ranch Conservation Area in Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties. The initial release could take place as soon as early 2011. The chosen area has suitable habitat, few roads and limited agricultural activity. The area also has a large proportion of land owned by the conservation department, the USDA Forest Service and the National Park Service.
In August, the conservation department hosted open houses in Van Buren, Eminence and Ellington, towns in or near the proposed elk-restoration zone, to learn citizens’ views on the idea of elk restoration. The approximately 300 people who attended the meetings got to ask questions of Conservation Department staff and were encouraged to make written or verbal comments on the proposed plan. The majority of written comments received at the public meetings were in favor of elk restoration, the department said.
At the same time, the conservation department began seeking comments statewide. Results of public comments received through Oct. 1 will be included in the report to be considered by the conservation commission at its meeting Oct. 15. The conservation department will continue gathering public comments after Oct. 1.
Comments can be sent to Missouri Department of Conservation, Director’s Office, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City Mo., 65102-0180 or filed at the conservation department’s website, www.mdc.mo.gov/contact-us under “Elk Restoration Comments.” Information about the MDC’s proposed elk restoration efforts is available at www.missouriconservation.org by searching “elk restoration.”
Under the proposed plan, elk would be quarantined before and after arriving in Missouri and would be tested for diseases that could affect wildlife or domestic livestock. These measures are being developed in consultation with the state veterinarian and the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
All imported elk would be fitted with microchips and radio collars to permit tracking their movements and health monitoring. The proposed elk-restoration plan will include measures to keep elk off private land where they are not welcome and within the targeted restoration zone. Hunting would be used in the future to maintain the elk herd at a manageable size.
Elk-vehicle accidents have been infrequent in other states with elk-restoration programs. This is partly because bull elk assemble groups of cows and guard them, rather than pursuing individual females, as white-tailed deer do.
Arkansas has a larger elk herd than is contemplated in Missouri. The road density is nearly twice as great in Arkansas’ elk-restoration zone as in Missouri’s proposed restoration zone. Records maintained by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission show one or two elk-vehicle accidents annually since elk restoration began 25 years ago. The Game and Fish Commission receives approximately two complaints of pasture damage and one or two complaints of fence damage annually.
According to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, statistics from eastern states with elk-restoration programs show no human fatalities from collisions with elk, and automobile insurance rates are no higher in states with wild free-ranging elk.
The conservation department is considering elk restoration for several reasons, including citizen requests, ecological benefits from restoring a native species and economic benefits to Missouri through tourism and hunting.