Prudent Use of Our Sportsman’s Dollars


Politics and wildlife management shouldn’t mix.    I’ve defended that statement many times in these writings and on the radio.   I still firmly believe it.   Trained biologists have a better handle on the right decisions when it comes to game management than somebody who is beholding to a special interest group.   Even worse is when a politician believes he or she is an armchair biologist.   p>

My firm belief in that creed is what makes it hard to judge what’s going on with the elk program in West Virginia.    People I talk to within the DNR say there’s as much controversy among those inside the agency as there is among those who comment on stories about the elk on this website.    Depending on which biologist you hit up for an "off the record" conversation you may find out the reintroduction of elk is a fantastic idea.   Biologists love a good project which restores a species to its natural state–for many it’s a career achievement.    However, others believe it’s a monumentally bad idea.  

The bottom line is Governor Tomblin stated publicly he wanted to see elk reintroduced.   Therefore, that’s the direction the agency is going.    The people of West Virginia elected the governor to lead the state.   Since he thinks that’s the direction the state should go–the DNR has to go with him.   Frankly, who among us has ALWAYS agreed 100 percent with the boss?   Yet, in your job you probably go ahead and do what’s asked to the best of your ability.

Such is the case at DNR.  One unnamed source tells me in this instance, while there’s certainly politics driving the idea, it was going to happen eventually with or without political will.    The elk may not have been reintroduced deliberately, but they are moving in from neighboring states more and more every year.   Kentucky and Pennsylvania started the ball rolling.   Virginia is putting elk in a county on West Virginia‘s border and they’ll be moving in soon as well.     So one way or the other, the DNR is going to need a plan for elk. 

They already have the plan in place.  Until now however, it was largely aimed at managing those wayward animals who wandered into the Mountain State.  The desire of the administration seems to be to speed that along by buying them from Kentucky and giving them a lift across the Tug Fork.

The cost of such a program should be carefully considered.  The project will be paid for with hunting and fishing license money and it won’t be cheap.   The return on that investment needs to be carefully weighed going forward. 

Many supporters tell me they love the idea of elk hunting in West Virginia.  I like the idea too because it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to go hunting in Logan rather than Montana.  However, do not be deceived. Some seemed convinced elk hunting here will be like whitetail hunting.  It will not–at least not in our lifetime.   

Kentucky‘s elk program is 10-years old.  It’s considered the model for the West Virginia program.  Today, a decade later, Kentucky issues only 200 permits a year.   The state of Kentucky receives roughly 50,000 applications for those 200-permits.   The numbers show your chances of getting to hunt an elk in Kentucky (and eventually West Virginia) are roughly the same as hitting the lottery. 

Others are less enthused about hunting elk, but are fixated on the possibility of seeing elk and hearing them bugle.  Some believe elk sighting seeing tours could become big business.  Perhaps, but I still need more convincing on that one.   One thing is sure, it’s going to be an expensive bugle echoing through the steep hollows of southern West Virginia and I’m skeptical if people are willing to pony up that much cash for seeing elk.

The state would be wise to tread carefully in this direction.  They should be prudent in consideration of the cost of sportsman’s license fees to the amount of benefit sportsmen will receive. 


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