DNR Director Steve McDaniel talks about the situation on West Virginia Outdoors (click above)
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Five elk have died in recent days in southern West Virginia. Those animals include two pregnant cows transferred to West Virginia from Arizona earlier this year and three calves born since they herd was delivered to the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County.
The five elk died while being held in a five acre holding pen on the area in quarantine and awaiting clearance from the United States Department of Agriculture for release. Division of Natural Resources biologists and leaders have tried to gain a waiver from a required 120 day quarantine.
“We don’t think wild animals should be treated as captive cervids and right now they’re treating them both the same,” said DNR Director Steve McDaniel on last Saturday’s West Virginia Outdoors show while talking about the issue. “When you take a wild animal and try to keep them in a pen for 120 days and you have to dart and test them three times, it creates too much undue stress on the animal.”
Leaders of West Virginia’s Elk Project knew there would be an issue with the lengthy quarantine when the animals were first rounded up in Arizona in January. According to McDaniel they sought a waiver and asked USDA officials to expedite the testing process.
“On two different occasions they agreed to come to the facility, but they called the day before and said they were going to stay in D.C.,” McDaniel explained.
The delays and the loss of five animals prompted Governor Jim Justice to get involved. Justice called the White House to seek help in speeding the process.
“Captive elk raised on farms are used to human contact and being confined. Wild elk, like the ones captured in Arizona and transported by truck after being tranquilized, are much more likely to die from the stress,” Gov. Justice said in a news release issued Friday. “I am in contact with the folks in Washington, D.C. to try to get this situation resolved so that no more of our elk die before they can be released to join our growing elk herd.”
The elk in the Arizona herd spent 30 days in quarantine in the area where they were captured earlier this year before being hauled to West Virginia. As for this year’s addition to the herd, testing is complete and McDaniel said they are waiting on the final clearance from the USDA to release the remaining elk. All test results have been negative and necropsy results on the animals which died were also clear of any disease..
McDaniel and his team remain concerned about future of the elk reintroduction. They hope to change the requirements in the future out of fear the same thing could happen again in trap and transfer operations for the next several years.
“We’re trying to work to change the process and hopefully we can,”McDaniel said. “The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is very involved in trying to reintroduce elk to the eastern United States. There are several states working to capture elk out west and bring them here and if we can’t change the way we work with USDA several states are going to have issues.”