The long sought after Elk Restoration program in West Virginia took a big step forward recently with the creation of the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area.
This nearly 4,300-acre wildlife management area was announced at a reception held by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) on Friday, September 11 at the Chief Logan Conference Center.
West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin was on hand to celebrate the announcement of the new WMA as well as the Secretary of Commerce Keith Burdette and WVDNR Director, and fellow Logan County resident, Bob Fala.
The event was attended by many of the major players in the Elk Restoration Project including local representatives and delegates, large land owners, coal company personnel, WVDNR and WVDEP staff, RMEF Members and its Regional Director Bill Carman, and several local citizens who have all worked hard to push the Elk Program forward.
The newly created WMA is a cooperative effort between the WVDNR, Ecosystem Investment Partners, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The WMA consists of predominately reclaimed surface mine area which is well suited habitat for elk.
Elk are more of a grazing animal than the whitetails we are accustomed to seeing. Deer are mainly a browse eating animal preferring the stems and leaves of woody plants, where elk prefer a diet high in grasses.
Back in February the RMEF pledged an immediate $50,000 in seed money for the Elk Program, and has promised an additional nearly $50,000 for habitat enhancements to be done before the first elk ever arrive. It is very likely that the first of the habitat work will begin this fall.
Another big announcement that came out Friday was the naming of the WV Elk Biologist position to help spearhead the reintroduction program. Randy Kelly, the current WVDNR Region 5 biologist, was named as the first WVDNR Elk Biologist.
Randy has been involved with the Elk Program since day one and has been a staunch proponent for the restocking effort. Now with being named as the Elk Biologist he can focus all of his attention on seeing the program move forward and becoming as successful as it is in neighboring Kentucky.
In addition to the 4,300 acres of WMA created in Logan County, the partnership also added nearly 4500 acres in McDowell County that will become part of the existing Tug Fork WMA, located between Welch and Iaeger along the Tug Fork River. This will put the Tug Fork WMA at nearly 7,600 acres of prime elk real estate in McDowell County.
Director Fala even went as far as to hint that this isn’t all the WVDNR has in store from the blossoming Elk Program. Director Fala just took the position in January, but said it was made clear to him that Governor Tomblin wants to see the Elk Program be a success for the people of West Virginia and he and his staff are committed to making that happen.
It is great to see progress being made to bring elk back to the Mountain State. It will be a great addition to our wildlife resources to have the majestic wapiti once again roaming the mountains and hills. I have seen first-hand the economic boost just having these magnificent animals roaming the hills can provide in our neighboring states, couple that with the success we have seen from the Hatfield and McCoy Trail and it only means more great things to come for Southern West Virginia.