The mighty wapiti, or elk, roamed the hills and hollows of West Virginia over two centuries ago, but have long since went the way of the carrier pigeon in these parts. Thanks to a large group of dedicated individuals and organizations, the days of elk inhabiting the Mountain State may soon come full circle.
The reintroduction of elk has been talked about, dreamed about and even schemed about for years. Just in the past few weeks, those dreams of an established elk herd right here at home is closer to becoming a reality.
The WVDNR’s new Elk Management Plan is hot off the proverbial presses and is out for public comment until sometime next month. If interested you can download a copy of the plan from www.wvdnr.gov, read it and feel free to send in any comments.
This updated plan calls for the first elk to be reintroduced sometime in 2016! Granted this is an ambitious goal, but it can’t come soon enough for those longing to hear the roar of a bugling elk echoing down the hollows near home.
There are still plenty of hurdles to overcome to get the elk on the ground, but many hurdles have already been overcome and put behind the project. Milestones that have been reached already include, the naming of an elk project biologist, new land acquisitions, and even some proposed legislation changes just to name a few.
Another milestone was reached just this past Saturday with the elk program’s first Volunteer Day at the new Tomblin Wildlife Management Area located near Holden, WV. Approximately 30 volunteers were on hand to help erect the fencing on the “soft release” pen at the very first release sight for the reintroduced wapiti.
The volunteers consisted of excited sportsmen from all over the state. They were welcomed by Randy Kelley, Elk Program Biologist, WVDNR Director Bob Fala and current WVDNR Commissioners Kenny Wilson and Dr. Greg Burdette.
The Hatfield McCoy Elk Country Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, as well as several other chapters, were well represented, along with the RMEF State Chapter President Brian Satterfield and RMEF Regional Director Bill Carman on hand to help out. Several other organizations were represented as well, like the local NWTF Chapter and the WV Crossbow Hunters Association.
Local delegates Rupie Phillips from Logan County and Josh Nelson from Boone County were also on hand as well. The diverse group was a great testament to the wide ranging support the program has received so far.
As part of the transplant program the WVDNR needed to construct a “soft release” pen in which the elk will be placed once arriving at their new home. The idea of the release pen is to contain the animals and give them time to settle into a new area once they have been relocated.
According to Randy Kelley, “If the elk were simply turned out of the trailer, they would be full of adrenaline and run off into the wild blue yonder and could end up anywhere.” Once the animals have settled down and gotten used to their new surroundings, the gates on the pen can be opened and the elk left to wander out on their own.
So in preparation for the much anticipated arrival of the large cervids, the release pen must be finished and the volunteers were ready for the task. The pen being constructed was previously used by the Virginia Game and Fish Department for their reintroduction of elk and then donated to the WVDNR to aid their program.
The poles for the fence had already been set by WVDNR personnel with the aid of equipment and an operator provided by a generous local contractor. With the poles set, the volunteers main goal was to stretch the nearly 2000’ of fence to complete the pen.
Once everything got rolling, the 8’ fence started going up and within a matter of 6 to 8 hours nearly all the fence was up and ready for the first elk to be stocked. With only a few odds and ends left to complete the pen, it was definitely a huge step in preparing their new home.
Now with the pen nearly complete, several fresh food plots and water holes completed on the WMA, it is looking like the perfect place for an elk herd to call home. The only thing missing are the elk.
Hopes are high that the first elk will be released into the pen in 2016, and the dedicated folks of the WVDNR are doing everything they can to make that happen. As for the sportsmen, seeing all the progress and the preparations taking place to greet the long distant animals is a welcome sight.
You can rest assured this holiday season that many a sportsman has the Christmas wish to see the regal and majestic wapiti once again calling West Virginia home in the coming New Year. It is exciting to think that this time next year there may very well be a herd of elk celebrating their first Christmas right here in the mountain state. Let’s hope it will be the first of many to come.