HOLDEN, W.Va. — They’re not part of the wild and wonderful landscape just yet, but just over 50 elk from the state of Arizona are getting acclimated to their new surroundings in southern West Virginia. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources recently completed the transport of those elk from the state of Arizona to the Tomblin Wildlife Management Agency in Logan County. They are currently grazing in a five acre enclosure after their arrival back on March 4.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires those animals to be quarantined,” said DNR Elk Project Leader Randy Kelly. “They were in quarantine for 30 days in Arizona where the were tested for brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis. The tests were negative and we were cleared to transport them. Now we have to test them again and are just waiting out the required amount of time for the quarantine at the Department of Agriculture’s direction.”
The elk were rounded up in a rather ambitious operation in Arizona earlier this year by a professional team. It’s actually the third set of elk to be transferred to West Virginia as part of the reintroduction program. The first release was a group of animals acquired from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation area in December 2016. This year, the DNR was able to get another 15 elk from LBL which have already been transported and released in West Virginia.
“If all goes according to plan, we’ll have about 87 on the ground in West Virginia,” said Kelly. “It will give the public a little more opportunity to see them. This summer after the calf drop, we should have in excess of 100 animals on the ground so they should become a lot more visible.’
“It has been a wonderful experience working with the wildlife professionals in Arizona and all of the private supporters who are helping make West Virginia’s elk restoration project possible,” said DNR Director Stephen McDaniel.
Each of the elk released in West Virginia is marked with a chip and wears a GPS tracking collar to follow their movements. Biologist have also collected DNA samples from each animals as part of the biological workup and tagged each one with an ear identification. Kelly said data over the past year indicated the elk haven’t roamed all that far from their release point.
“They venture off and come back,” he said. “But it’s quality habitat and we’ve taken a lot of pains to improve things in that area and we keep it kind or quiet in that area to let them have a core base. They aren’t directly on the spot, but they’re hanging within a two and a half to three mile radius.”
He anticipated that would change with the new elk from Arizona in the mix, particularly with breeding activity this coming fall.
Each of the GPS collars is bought and donated by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Transport of the animals from Arizona was handled through a partnership with Energy Transportation LLC of Bridgeport, and EQT Corporation.