The Kentucky elk heard has proven the steep reclaimed mine lands of southern West Virginia will easily support elk
Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife
The Kentucky elk heard has proven the steep reclaimed mine lands of southern West Virginia will easily support elk

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A Texas drought and scarcity of quail in the Lone Star State has slowed the progress of the return of elk to the hills of West Virginia.

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Director Frank Jezioro updated members of the legislature in Charleston Thursday on the status of the state’s elk reintroduction program. Jezioro said there are two steps which need to be accomplished. One will be to secure adequate land in southern West Virginia to establish a new herd. Step two will be acquiring the elk.  Both are being pursued simultaneously.

Jezioro said state wildlife personnel have determined the best place to procure elk to begin a new West Virginia herd is in Kentucky. The Kentucky elk have no history of disease and have thrived in the reclaimed mine lands in the eastern part of the Bluegrass State. The terrain is almost identical to the southern West Virginia coalfields where the state is looking to reintroduce the population.

However, Kentucky won’t let the high value wildlife go without a price. Kentucky wildlife officials are looking to bolster other wildlife populations in their state using elk as trade bait. Already Kentucky wildlife officials want grouse and are working on an elk for grouse trade with Wisconsin.  Kentucky also wants quail. Although West Virginia has no quail, Jezioro said we have the means to acquire them.

“Kentucky didn’t want deer or bear and we have no quail, but Texas wanted eastern wild turkeys,” Jeizoro said. “We’ve already provided Texas with the eastern wild turkeys they wanted and now the problem is getting the quail. Texas has been through a drought and most of their quail are on private land, so it doesn’t look like we’re going to get any quail immediately. But when they give us the quail, we trade them to Kentucky, and they give us elk.”

A source indicated the state shipped 20 West Virginia turkeys to Texas this week. The birds spent an unexpected one day layover in the Atlanta airport when this week’s snow paralyzed the deep south, but arrived no worse for wear.  The arrangement calls for another ten West Virginia turkeys to be shipped to Texas Parks and Wildlife Officials. It’s unclear how many quail West Virginia will receive in the exchange or how many Kentucky elk West Virginia will receive in the deal.

While the wheeling and dealing happens among elk, turkeys, and quail, the DNR’s other obstacle is finding suitable habitat for those elk to range once they arrive in West Virginia.

“We’ve given Natural Resources Commissioner Kenny Wilson the written agreement and he felt confident he could find a place in the southern coalfields where we could put them,” Jezioro said.

However Jezioro is adamant about qualifications on the property.

“If we put those elk on somebody’s property, we want a guarantee hunters will have access to those elk and be able to hunt them,” said Jezioro. “We don’t want to establish an elk herd, go to all this expense and spend a lot of money, and have somebody tell us down the road ,’We don’t want you on the property anymore.’ Once we have that type of agreement, we’re ready to move forward.”

Delegate Rupie Phillips of Logan County told the committee he believed the pieces were in place to advance the program quickly.

“I understand we’ve got the land already pretty much together and it’s also my understanding there’s a location in Kentucky that has several elk they’re wanting to give away, plus we have 300,000 dollars the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is willing to pledge to the program if we put them in southern West Virginia where they feel it’s the most appropriate,” said Phillips during the legislative hearing in an exchange with Jezioro.

Jezioro said he was unaware of what Phillips claimed, but they were waiting on the land agreement from Commissioner Wilson.

“I feel confident we can get those land agreements,” Wilson told MetroNews. “They have those agreements in hand and their legal teams are looking them over.  I think we’re moving in the right direction, but the process doesn’t happen overnight.”

Phillips questioned the wording of the proposed land contract offered to land holding companies in the southern West Virginia coalfields.

“It’s a lot different from what Kentucky’s agreement is with the land companies,” said Phillips. “The land companies are willing to sign the Kentucky agreement.”

Wilson said the state has approached Dingess Run Land Company, McDonald Land Company, and Forest Land Group. The companies are the three major land holding companies in the region according to Wilson. He added the wording which caused reservations was only one or two lines and not a major obstacle.

Wilson confirmed the elk which appear  to be readily available would come from western Kentucky in the Land Between the Lakes Region along the Tennessee border.

“Kentucky apparently has a surplus of elk in that area they’d be willing to give us,” Wilson said. “But it’s also a disease free herd.”

Wilson said a public meeting is set for February 27 for all interested parties. The meeting, slated for the Chief Logan Conference Center, will involve the formation of a new Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Chapter for fundraising activities and a discussion about the progress of the Elk Reintroduction Program.

“The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, representatives of the land companies, and interested lawmakers will all be there,” said Wilson. “It’s a meeting to discuss all of the issues and get everybody on the same page.  This is going to happen, it just takes time.”

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  • deer hunter

    Wow disease free elk herd we try to move deer in the state for our cervix farms and are told no because of cwd,then are tax money is used to bring in elk from an untested herd I'm ex military and a deer farmer and this state is unfriendly to both.But I'm all for the elk just wish the director of the Dnr would do good for the deer farmers in this state like other states have done guess time will tell

  • Cindy

    I spoke to some people who have been around elk populations. I found out that they tear down fences. So whose going to pay for farmers to rebuild fences & pay for the havoc that loose livestock cause. At least the deer jump over fences...not plow them down.

  • Brad

    Politics plays in all state government endeavors. . . you'd be naive to think otherwise. Be that as it may, hunters are paying for elk reintroduction by and large - not the bird or butterfly watchers (also part of the WVDNR's focus). Elk reintroduction - good move for hunters. Let the Audubon people and the like worry about paying for Cerulean Warbler habitat, management and protection. The devil is in the details though and I question the where and why of re-establishment of elk.

  • Longbeards

    In regards to coyotes being in WV it is a well established fact. Where did they come from? I had a college professor in the 70s in a wildlife bio class that presented what I consider a pretty good theory, it is the best I have heard. He projected a map of the US on the board, proceded to draw in the exsisting interstates and proposed interstates. He showed how they bridged every natural barrier, how the green, high grassy medians made a perfect hunting and cover habitat...AND projected that in the next 30 years we would have animals in WV and the East that we never had before...The example he gave was the coyote!! He is a well know and respected teacher, to this day I belive he was right!

  • Todd

    This reintroduction of elk will only stand to diminish the big buck Mecca that is catching fire in southern wv. The mom would be much better suited. Reason 1 their are no deer we recent work there for month and only saw four deer. I believe this decision is 90 percent political. I also think if this was to boost tourism why not the mon probably our highest tourism area. There is enough land I believe invasion on local farmers would be at a minimum. But then again I'm just some dumbbell hillbilly not some rich guy from the southern part of the state stuffing money in politicians pockets.

  • Kevin Painter

    I was reading thru this post and something that I found interesting is how people think the DNR brought the coyotes in, or that they migrated in. Which may be true in some smaller degree. The truth of the matter is that insurance companies brought the Coyote in to try and limit the number of vehicle collisions with white tail. WV is either number one or two in deer related vehicle accidents. I have seen dead coyotes with collars on them. When further investigated the collars were put on them by their breeder. Coyote farmers from the mid west who readily admitted selling the animals to insurance companies. Far easier to believe an insurance company looking out for there own good did this to us. Not mother nature, or the DNR.

  • Gun Dog

    Clearly, before we pass judgment on the merits of re-introduction of Elk we need to have a knowledge of at least three items: 1). A plan which specifies how many Elk, over what time span before hunting occurs, and at what projected cost to hunters will be incurred. 2). A need to see and have reviewed by the Attorney General of WV the lease agreements of this private land and 3). The Legislature must allow the WV-DNR the right to incur a lottery system for an application for license to hunt the Elk and those monies must not go into the State of West Virginia's General Revenue Fund but placed fully back into wildlife management. It is extremely difficult to justify spending license dollars on wildlife re-introduction on land we may not have access to inperpetuity like happened on the Amherst properties and the wild boar re-introduction. We have to learn from every past mistake and improve.

  • rick

    Why would you not put the elk in the back country areas first. Cranberry and Dolly Sods would be the first place to put them.

  • everyday outdoorsman

    Just want to mention that this is one of the most interesting web-blogs that I have taken the time to read. Informative content from an obviously concerned and dedicated group of outdoor activists. thank you.

  • Mountain Man

    One additional comment please.....we all know there are more outlaws in southern WV than anywhere else. Everyone turns their head the other way enabling the so called "unfortunate can put meat on the table." So these elk won't survive one season. Better plan on stocking them like trout.

  • Mountain Man

    The DNR under the current director is another corrupt and ineptly managed WV program. Sportsman don't have a say and never will under these tyrants. The spring meetings continue to be a lip service event. Our DNR needs a top down cleaning!!!!!

  • WV Man

    So who gets the credit for our thriving fairydiddle population?

  • Shadow

    If having elk is so great, why is KY willing "to give" some to WV? Normal people, when they have something valuable, want money in return. There were no words to say why this generosity beyond being "nice guys".