It was like déjà vu all over again. On Sept. 21 at City Hall in Salem, the public was invited to share their thoughts on the Missouri Department of Conservation's proposal to reintroduce wild elk in three southern Missouri counties. One participant observed that a similar meeting took place in the same room almost 10 years ago when the department proposed a similar plan. That plan was "suspended" due to the opposition of landowners throughout the state.
Almost a decade has passed, but most of the meeting's participants' feelings have not changed. By a show of hands, the crowd was overwhelmingly opposed to reintroducing elk. To be fair, a few participants and a representative of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation expressed support for the plan.
The meeting was interesting in that it differed greatly from the glowing comments released by the conservation department following workshops in the proposed release area. The optimism was premature as there seems to be a division forming. Those who support the reintroduction plan believe they have something to gain by the potential for additional tourists and possibly elk hunters. Those who oppose the plan have something to lose.
Opponents' concerns include disease threats to the area's $165 million cattle industry, potential loss of life resulting from automobile-elk collisions, and damage to fencing and forages. Questions regarding the cost of the reintroduction plan and who will assume liability for damages resulting from elk went unanswered. Many in the crowd were skeptical the elk will remain in the release area, and some indicated that Arkansas landowners would be thrilled if their elk would leave Arkansas and come to Missouri.
In the end, 52 participants responded to a written questionnaire stating they oppose elk reintroduction and six indicated support for the plan. This may not be a statistical sample, but my guess is the results are a good reflection of how Missouri landowners still feel about the plan — at least the ones who have something to lose.
Dan Cassidy is the chief administrative officer for the Missouri Farm Bureau.