Whitesburg KY

Growing elk herd benefits region, state officials say

SURPRISE VISITOR -  A large bull elk was photographed visiting a home on Cram Creek at Mayking earlier this month. (Photo by Becky Johnson)

SURPRISE VISITOR – A large bull elk was photographed visiting a home on Cram Creek at Mayking earlier this month. (Photo by Becky Johnson)

Attention elk hunters.

The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission allotted 400 elk hunting permits at its December meeting for the 2008 elk season, and it’s time to get your applications in. The deadline to apply is April 30, three months sooner than in previous years.

Four hundred elk hunting opportunities in Kentucky? It’s been only a decade since seven wild elk from Kansas leapt from a truck onto a reclaimed Perry County strip mining operation and signaled the start of one of the nation’s largest wildlife restoration efforts. Larger truck loads followed a month later, giving Kentucky its first free-ranging elk herd since before the Civil War.

In the next few years, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, with partners the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, National Wild Turkey Federation, and a number of volunteers, trapped about 1,500 wild elk from western herds and trucked them to several release sites in southeast Kentucky.

They became the nucleus of a herd nearing 7,300 animals today and are well on the way to a target of 10,000. Department Big Game Program Coordinator Dr. Tina Brunjes is looking forward to some tremendous elk hunting in the not-to-distant future.

“I predict we’ll be issuing many more permits someday soon,” said Brunjes. “Our herd is growing quickly and it’s a high quality herd too. We have a good number of record book quality elk here now.”

While hunters clearly benefit, as they should since they paid millions through their license purchases and support of conservation organizations involved in the restoration, others have benefited as well.

Wildlife watchers flock to the elk zone year-round to see and hear the majestic animals, spending their tourism dollars at hotels and restaurants in a part of the state almost barren of watchable wildlife only a few generations ago.

Businesses offering elk tours capitalize on their magnetism.

But despite their tremendous popularity and the attention focused on Kentucky’s elk zone by enthusiasts from across the country, elk sometimes get into trouble. They’re attracted to lush golf course fairways, backyard gardens and landscaping, wellkept yards and family cemeteries. Their size and weight can leave deep hoof prints, destroy fences, golf course greens and grave stones.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife biologists, technicians and conservation officers will help minimize their impacts. They employ hazing devices and other methods to deter offending animals.

“The positive impact elk have had on the communities of east Kentucky exceeded our predictions,” said Dr. Jon Gassett, commissioner of the department. “We know that they sometimes cause a bit of trouble, but we hope people who are experiencing problems with a nuisance elk will give us a call and let us address the issue.

“It is not legal for people to just simply kill elk in Kentucky,” said Gassett. “There are a number of ways to change their behavior without resorting to lethal means. Our professionals have a lot of experience and understand the elk and have a whole playbook on how to deal with them.”

Persons experiencing issues with nuisance elk may call Kentucky Fish and Wildlife at 1-800- 858-1549 for assistance.

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