The much anticipated return of the fabled, and long absent, wapiti is getting closer. In just a few short months the Mountain State should see its first transplants released and once again calling the hills and hollows home.
The process has been agonizingly slow for most sportsmen who are waiting with baited breath to catch their first sight of the regal elk roaming free on this side of the Tug Fork River. An undertaking such as reintroducing a long forgotten species is not a task to be taken lightly, nor is it something to be rushed.
As the old adage says, “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing right”, and by that sentiment a huge hats off should go to the WVDNR for taking the lessons learned from our neighboring states, who have reintroduced elk, and putting them to use in our very own reintroduction endeavor.
The dedicated folks at the WVDNR have not just been sitting idle in the past few months, they have been hard at work. So far the elk have plenty of room to roam in the form of over 50,000 acres of public land in place in the elk zone. Over 30,000 acres of this property has just been added to the state wildlife management areas in just the past few months.
The best part of this new public area is that it isn’t just for the elk. This public land is available for all who wish to enjoy it. The chance of seeing, or hearing, an elk is just a huge bonus.
The WVDNR has already erected the first release pen on the newly acquired Tomblin WMA and is just about ready to see its first residents. In conjunction with the release pen, the DNR has even rolled out the welcome mat for its new residents in the form of several food plots that have been established with the elk in mind.
Speaking of elk, the first batch of transplanted elk are set to arrive later this fall. The exact timing of fresh elk hoof prints in their new home isn’t set in stone, but officials expect them to be on the ground sometime in November or December of this year.
The goal of the program is to transplant a herd of 150 animals or so over the next several years. These transplant animals should provide enough animals to start a viable and sustainable population. Future plans are to closely monitor and control herd numbers to provide the best opportunities for the sportsmen and viewing public while keeping the population at levels to not create a strain on their environment.
A project such as this isn’t undertaken alone. The WVDNR has had plenty of help along the way and partnered with a wide range of groups and sportsmen’s organizations.
At the front of the line when it comes to helping get West Virginia’s Elk Program up and running is the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF). This group has been working hand in hand with the WVDNR to see elk reintroduced.
They have already donated more than $100,000 dollars to the program with more to come as it is needed. This money has gone for everything from putting in food plots, to having volunteers on hand to help put up the release pen.
All of this, even before the first elk are even on the ground. The RMEF has also helped to facilitate meetings with other agencies and states and worked tirelessly to help the WVDNR to secure a source for the elk stock to be re-introduced.
The RMEF is a volunteer driven organization that has been instrumental in getting elk reintroduced in states like Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee just to name a few. They have chapters all over the country who raise money through banquets and auctions and a number of fundraising activities and these funds are put back into the conservation of the mighty elk.
The local RMEF chapter has been right in the middle of preparing the new home for the elk when they arrive. The Hatfield McCoy Elk Country Chapter and its volunteers are always ready to see the project get further along.
As a matter of fact they are hosting a Night Out for Elk Country on July 30th, 2016 to help raise funds that will go toward additional conservation efforts. The event will be held at the Chief Logan State park Lodge and will be a great way to help show support for the elk program.
WVDNR Director Bob Fala will be in attendance to give an update on where the elk program is at and when we can expect to see the first hooves in the pen. It should definitely be a great time and best of all tickets start at only $25.
For more information on the event contact Steve Ratz at 304-785-6762 or Diana Barnette 304-688-3710. With a little luck and the continued support of organizations like the RMEF, by this time next year we may very well be getting ready to hear the first Mountain State elk bugling in over 100 years.