CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Plans to reintroduce elk into West Virginia will be interrupted in 2019 solely for a lack of any animals to procure.
“We’ve been in communication with two or three different sources and as of right now it does not appear we will be getting any animals for 2019,” said Gary Foster, Assistant Chief of Game for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources on West Virginia Outdoors last weekend on Metronews.
The original elk reintroduction plan for the Mountain State called for numbers to be bolstered every year around this time with elk transplanted into the southern West Virginia elk zone from herds elsewhere. But Foster noted the entire plan was always cloaked with the term “adaptive” because planners realized early availability might become an issue.
During the last two years elk were brought to West Virginia from the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky. Foster said more may come from the federal lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service eventually, but not this year.
“They have a limited number and we’ve taken two different stockings from them,” he said. “They’re wanting their population to build back up a little bit. They’ve definitely offered to help us in the future, but it appears 2019 may be a little bit early.”
Also in 2018, West Virginia received several dozen elk from the state of Arizona. At the time those elk were considered excess and in an area where the Arizona Game and Fish Commission was looking to reduce its elk numbers. Much like L-B-L, according to Foster, Arizona isn’t ruling out future stock, but can’t commit in 2019.
“It’s just in terms of availability and getting approval from their commission and that type of thing,” he said. “I think they’re wanting to try an evaluate their herd and see in the area where they were trapping how many excess animals they might have.”
He admitted there was pressure from license holders in those states on game and fish leaders for letting animals leave the state. Foster called it an understandable attitude and noted the delicate balance a state agency has to strike in such matters.
When the West Virginia Elk Reintroduction Plan was first being crafted, there was a strong desire to get elk from Kentucky. The thriving numbers in the Bluegrass State just across the Tug Fork River made the most sense. The animals were close so transportation would be much more efficient and less stressful on the animals. Plus the elk there have already shown a penchant for doing well in the Appalachia range. They are also a disease free herd and in some cases were already coming over to West Virginia anyway.
But the Kentucky elk are in high demand and West Virginia is having to wait its turn.
“We’ve been in communication with Kentucky with regard to the elk right across the state line, but right ow they’re working with Wisconsin on a translocation program,” said Foster. “Plus there moving some elk within the state of Kentucky right now.”
Former DNR Director Frank Jezioro detailed a budding plan to members of a legislative committee back in 2014 before the original launch of the program. At the time, Jezioro described a three way arrangement for lawmakers in which West Virginia planned to trade wild turkeys to Texas for quail. The quail would be traded by West Virginia to Kentucky for the elk. Foster said that arrangement never got off the ground.
“No it did not,” he explained. “That didn’t get any traction.”
What has gotten traction has been the natural reproduction of the elk now on the ground in West Virginia.
“We had a really good rut with a lot of bugling,” said Foster. “We brought in a large number of cows from Arizona and hopefully we’ll have a good reproduction year.”
The Elk Reintroduction project remains one of the agency’s most high profile programs, but Foster cautioned it also is delicate and cannot be rushed.
“We’re definitely looking to bring in another 75 to 100 and hopefully we get that done in 2020 and 2021,” he said. “However, we have to be very careful with where we get the animals. There’s very few states where we can bring animals in due to health and disease concerns. We definitely want to be very careful with it.”