Rural Missouri - October 2010 - (Page 12)
he last time wild elk roamed Missouri, Grant was accepting Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Lewis Carroll was publishing “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and Wild Bill Hickok was dueling with Davis Tutt on the town square in Springfield. Now nearly 150 years later, a plan to return the species to a roughly 365-square-mile portion of the Ozarks is drawing interest from those who would rejoice at the sight of wild elk in southern Missouri and criticism from those concerned the animals will cause trouble. In mid-July, the Missouri Conservation Commission directed the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to develop a proposed plan to restore elk around the Peck Ranch Conservation Area in a zone covering parts of Carter, Reynolds and Shannon counties. Under the plan, 80 to 150 elk could be released into the area beginning as early as next year. If the idea of creating a wild elk herd in Missouri sounds familiar, it should. In the late 1990s, MDC conducted a feasibility study for a similar project. But the commission ultimately tabled the effort in 2001 due to opposition from private landowners in the restoration zone, concerns about the availability of suitable habitat and the emergence of chronic wasting disease (CWD), a neurological condition that affects deer and elk. Conservation officials say they have addressed these past issues and tout the economic benefits that could be reaped through both hunting and elk ecotourism as seen in other states with elk restoration programs. Those opposed to the plan argue that the animals will increase the threat of disease to livestock, cause vehicle accidents and damage fences, pastures and crops. CWD may be the high-profile disease that grabs headlines, but elk also can spread tuberculosis and brucellosis, both of which would be detrimental to Missouri’s livestock industry. In order to ensure elk imported for the restoration program are disease free, MDC has worked cooperatively with the Missouri Department of Agriculture to develop a testing protocol. According to Dr. Taylor Woods, Missouri’s state veterinarian, the protocol is more stringent than any for domestic livestock or captive elk and deer. He says the guidelines call for testing for more than a half-dozen diseases, both before and after elk are transported into the state. “We want to make sure, as far as we can, that we import no new disease into Missouri, and that we have the old diseases that we know about covered,” he says. “I think there are concerns that we have to watch, but I do think it’s something that we’ve adequately covered.” Not everyone agrees with Woods’ assessment. “They have put together what they feel is a stringent testing regimen, but there’s certainly still a risk,” says Leslie Holloway, director of state and local government affairs for Missouri Farm Bureau. “There’s more risk if there are elk here than if there aren’t elk here. Our question is just, is it worth the risk?” Holloway argues the state’s protocol is unproven and includes a live-animal test for CWD that is a relatively new procedure. Woods says the liveanimal test is a usable test, even if it hasn’t yet been certified. The risk of disease, however, is just one concern Farm Bureau raises. Holloway says her organization’s members also worry about elk wandering onto private property and damaging fences, crops and pastures. Livestock sales in the three counties that comprise the elk restoration zone account for about $13.5 million annually. “There are a significant number of people whose livelihoods could well be impacted, and that can’t be ignored,” she says. MDC Deputy Director Tom Draper says by improving natural plant communities, such as woodlands, glades and savannas, the department also has improved habitat and forage opportunities for elk. “We believe that given the habitat that’s available
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To order a print of this photo, see page 31.
Should the Missouri Conservation Commission decide to move forward with a plan to reintroduce elk at Peck Ranch Conservation Area in southern Missouri, a trophy bull elk like this could roam the Missouri Ozarks in the future.
Elk in Missouri?
Proposed plan to restore wild elk in the Ozarks excites some, elicits concerns from others
on public land, particularly on Peck Ranch, those animals have the habitat that will sustain them,” he says, noting that within the restoration zone, 54 to 60 percent of the acreage is in public ownership. “The department wants to be a good neighbor with adjacent landowners, and we will work with private landowners if elk wander where they’re not wanted.” Draper adds that elk released will be microchipped and fitted with a radio transmitter so the animals’ movements can be monitored. “If elk do wander onto private land within the restoration zone or outside the restoration zone, they will be dealt with very quickly and removed from the area,” he says. Elk-vehicle accidents are another concern, Holloway says. But according to MDC biologist Lonnie Hansen, experiences with deer in Missouri can’t be correlated to elk. “They’re just different critters, and their breeding systems are different,” he says. “Elk are herders, and the bull has his harem. He’s not going all over the world looking for does like a white-tailed buck, and that’s when we have our deer-vehicle accidents, during the fall breeding season.” Hansen says that in Arkansas, where elk restoration began in 1998, there has been an average of one elk-vehicle accident per year in an area that includes 2.1 miles of road per square mile. By comparison, Missouri’s elk restoration zone has about half as many roads — 1.2 miles per square mile. The habitat in Arkansas is similar to that in Missouri, and Hansen predicts the restoration zone could support a similar population — about one elk per square mile — for a total of 350 to 400 animals. He said the population will be managed through hunting. “I’m looking at five years (for a hunting season). The population won’t hit our goal by then, but I think what we’ll want to do is implement hunting early on to get the public used to the fact that we’re going to manage them through hunting,” Hansen said. “We’re a little concerned about these animals being so popular and kind of becoming the pets of the Ozarks.” In late August, the Conservation Department hosted three public meetings in communities around the elk restoration zone to answer questions and gather comments on the proposed plan. Many of the 300 or so who attended favored the plan. “I don’t have a big problem with it,” said Tom Moss of Ellington who attended the meeting there on Aug. 26. “I love to hunt. I might not ever get to hunt them, but my grandchild might. I think the department can do what they say they can do. I think they’ve done their homework on it. If the habitat is there, the elk will stay in that area, they won’t be migrating out into farmer’s fields.” Not everyone is as convinced. “If they would stay on Peck Ranch, I’d be for it 100 percent, but I don’t know that they would actually do that,” said Don Emerson, a cattleman from Centerville. “They say they’re native to Missouri, but that was more than 100 years ago, and things have changed a lot since then. So, I don’t really know. I would say I was undecided.” The Conservation Commission will consider the proposed elk restoration plan at its meeting in Kirksville, Oct. 14-15. More information about the proposed elk restoration plan is available at www.mdc.mo.gov by searching “elk restoration.” An article highlighting the Missouri Farm Bureau’s position can be found in the September/October issue of Show Me magazine, online at www.mofb.org. Those wishing to comment on the proposed plan may do so online at www.mdc.mo.gov/contact-us under “Elk Restoration Comments,” or by writing to Missouri Department of Conservation, Director’s Office, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - October 2010
Rural Missouri - October 2010
Good Times on the Berryman
Elk in Missouri?
Out of the Way Eats
Live Like a Viking
Two Men and a Cave
Hearth and Home
Paddlin' for a Cure
Get in Touch with Ghosts
Rural Missouri - October 2010