Missouri will soon decide whether to reintroduce elk

Thursday, September 16, 2010 | 2:08 p.m. CDT; updated 7:22 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 9, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY – A decision is expected in October on whether to reintroduce elk to Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has made plans to restore the native species 10 years after a similar effort stalled.

The Missouri Conservation Commission, the governing board of the Conservation Department, directed its staff on July 16 to research and develop plans to restore between 80 and 150 elk in a 365-square mile area encompassing Reynolds, Shannon and Carter counties in south-central Missouri.

The Department of Conservation is gathering public comment until Oct. 1. A recommendation is expected to go before the Conservation Commission on Oct. 15.

The agency held public meetings in Van Buren, Eminence and Ellington, which are adjacent to the proposed restoration site. With about 300 people providing feedback, a "large majority" of them favored the project, Joe Jerek of the Missouri Department of Conservation said.

A more specific count of the positions reflected in the public comments will be made after Oct. 1, and presented to the Conservation Commission on Oct. 15, Jerek said.

Leslie Holloway, director of state and local governmental affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, said her organization remains opposed to restoring elk in Missouri, as they had been a decade ago.

The Farm Bureau's objections center on potential damage to crops and fence lines,  possible disease transmissions to wildlife and livestock and vehicle collisions.

Under the new plan, measures to keep elk off private land include radio collars and microchips to track movement. The majority of the land where the elk would free-roam, 60 percent, is publicly owned with another 27 percent owned privately by the L-A-D Foundation, which supports efforts to restore elk, Jerek said. The foundation was created by Missouri conservationist Leo Drey.

Elk that stray onto private land would be identified and moved.

Chronic wasting disease, transmittable and infectious to elk, white-tailed deer and  moose, was an emerging disease 10 years ago when the restoration project was first introduced in 2000.

A decade later, the Missouri Department of Conservation is more educated about how the disease acts, Shawn Gruber, a district supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said.

Testing live elk for chronic wasting disease has become available since the restoration was first introduced in 2000. At that time, only dead elk could be tested, which is not effective in containing disease, Gruber said.

In the new plan, each elk would be quarantined both before and after entering Missouri, and tested for any disease posing a threat to other wildlife and livestock.

After the quarantine period, elk that do die would be subjected to a comprehensive round of testing for disease, including chronic wasting.

Taylor Woods, state veterinarian for the Missouri Department of Agriculture, said the disease testing is the most stringent health protocol ever developed regarding livestock and the movement of elk across state lines.

The elk would likely come from Arkansas or Kentucky where the testing protocol has already shown success against major problems with diseases, Woods said.

Outside of disease, the department notes few collisions have been reported in other states with restored elk populations. For example, in Kentucky, a restored population of 10,000 elk confined to a 6,400-square mile area, caused only 20 elk-vehicle accidents. No fatalities have been reported in the history of Kentucky's elk restoration project, Jerek said.

The Conservation Department has been restoring glade and woodland habitats around the proposed restoration site that features little agriculture, few roads and large tracts of public land.

If the elk succeed, they would eventually be hunted to maintain a suitable population, Gruber said.

In a speech during the Conservation Federation of Missouri's 75th anniversary on Sept. 10 in Columbia, Gov. Jay Nixon voiced his support for the elk restoration project. He said restoring elk was a "continuation of a native species" and that it would be an economic generator via increased tourism and hunting revenues.

-- Eva Dou of the Missourian's staff contributed to this report.

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Ted Meyer September 17, 2010 | 5:55 a.m.

I am excited that there is a chance that Elk will be reintroduced back in Missiuri. Looking at the map I realized that the chosen area is close to property I hope someday to retire on. The only thing that worries me is Shannon County has a bad problem with people running dogs to chase deer which could effect the Elk. This needs to be researched cause I hate to see this be a problem down the road.

(Report Comment)
Ray Combs September 19, 2010 | 9:37 a.m.

I think it is a big mistake to introduce Elk in Missouri. I don't want them here. Elk carry a disease that could devastate the deer population in Missouri. Elk will devastate crops, eat our hay, damage property and expose motorist to terrible accidents when these big animals cross roadways. Farmers will have to erect huge high fences at great expense to keep them out. From my perspective our government does very little that is right, they usually make a mess out of everything. Promises are always empty and the results usually cost the American taxpayer big bucks and lots of grief. And for the lady that wants to retire here with the Elk, you and your Elk are not welcome.

(Report Comment)
Gary Miller January 26, 2012 | 10:07 a.m.

I to, own property in Shannon county. I,ve owned 80 acres there for 10 years and I can tell you for a fact, that trying to re-introduce elk into this area can cause a lot of problems. It's true what one poster had to say about the locals running their dogs there . There is no law, that applies to those people around Bunker,Timber or anywhere else. They burn your property right before deer season, and adding elk to the mix, would just complicate a bigger promblem. It would give their dogs something else to chase

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