KENTUCKY’S SUCCESSFUL ELK RESTORATION   Leave a comment

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The re-establishment of wild elk in Kentucky is a bright star in the field of wildlife management.

The first elk transported to Kentucky came from Elk Island, Alberta, Canada in the 90’s.

Those first Rocky Mountain Elk were released at Land Between the Lakes and their descendants can be viewed there via an auto tour.

Lessons learned in that transfer established a protocol for transfers to the south eastern part of Kentucky in subsequent years. The one hundred original animals consisted of 40 bulls and 60 cows. They seem to have grown larger than their brethren in the western states due lack of stress.

An 80% pregnancy rate has proven fruitful for the herd in general. Low mortality comes in the form of Brain worm (7-8 percent), poaching (1-2 percent), and an additional 10 percent from unknown causes. Kentucky is free of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD.)

Kentucky now boasts the largest herd of elk east of the Rocky Mountains. Estimates are that the herd is at 10,000 animals. This figure makes it larger than all of the other herds combined. This conservation success draws thousands of hunters and viewers to eastern Kentucky. More information is available at http://fw.ky.gov/Hunt/Pages/Elk-Hunting.aspx.

The counties where the elk live, once coal mining country, were once decimated by the decline in coal mining. The restoration of the elk herd has had an estimated $3 million economic impact. Much of it comes from tourist activity and hunter activity. It has the appearance of scenery usually found only in Montana.

Mine reclamation has resulted in mountain top grasslands with forested slopes and little commercial agricultural activity in the 16 counties affected. The coal companies worked with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife from the start to improve the habitat to provide elk viewing and hunting opportunities.
The work has resulted in benefit to the counties turkeys, white-tailed deer, waterfowl and migrating song birds.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky issues 1,000-elk tags each year. There are over 70,000 applications for the tags. Hunters can apply for 4 types of tags in 2015 which is the 15th anniversary of the hunt. Some of the tags go to conservation organizations and charities to raise funds for conservation activities. They are sold by raffle or auction to the public.

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