Newest additions to West Virginia elk herd have arrived in southern West Virginia

HOLDEN, W.Va. — As the sun dropped behind the distant mountains, the sides of the livestock trailer shook like thunder as one by one the newest additions to West Virginia’s elk herd bounded out the door and into the holding facility of the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County.

Members of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, assisted by personnel from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, delivered 17 of the 40 elk the state is due to receive in the weeks ahead from the U.S. Forest Service at their Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky.

“They’ve been handled for the TB test twice before we got there, so they were a little contrary, but we checked on them during the trip and they did okay,” said DNR Elk Project Leader Randy Kelley.

The agency separated the cows and bulls into two separate holding areas on the Tomblin WMA and will soon open the gate for a soft release. No further testing or quarantine is required, so the new elk will soon mingle with the existing population on the ground on their own.

“The idea is to let them get acclimated and make sure everybody did come through the transportation okay before we turn them loose. Within seven to 10 days we’ll open the gate and let them wander out on their own into the hills of West Virginia,” Kelley explained.

The 17 new elk will be held for a week or so before the gates are opened and they’ll wander into the wild on their own PHOTO: Mark Bias

This was the fourth release of transplanted elk in the DNR’s Elk Reintroduction Project and the first since approximately 60 were brought to the Mountain State from Arizona in 2018. Since then the elk population had been maintaining itself, but growing at a slow rate. The introduction of new animals, some of which are almost certainly bred, will help reinvigorate the population growth according to Kelley.

“Once we find out which of the cows are pregnant, it will help us almost immediately,” he said. “But there is a variety of age structure, they’re not all to breeding age, so if we get six or seven this year, then five more next year, and five or six more the following year who come into breeding age, it will give us about a third more calves in just a short span of time.”

Once they leave the pen, it’s hard to say where the newest members of the West Virginia herd will wind up. The group has been together for a couple of weeks and made the trip together which has grouped them into a loose family unit. Some may break off and stake out new territory on the 35,000 acres of the Tomblin WMA away from the others. But, Kelley added some may fold into the existing West Virginia population and grow the herd that way based on past experiences.

“They don’t wander far because they don’t have to,” he explained.

It’s anticipated the rest of the 23 elk West Virginia expected to receive will be rounded up and transported in the next couple of months.

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