As president of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, one question that I’ve heard regularly is, “When are we going to reintroduce elk to Missouri?” In October, Missouri’s Conservation Commission will meet to consider that option. With 90,000 members across the state, CFM has been a proponent of elk restoration, and I’m personally hopeful that we will see this majestic native species returned to our landscape.
For 75 years CFM has operated under the assumption that conservation works best when it reflects the will of the citizens. I want to commend the Department of Conservation for their thorough, 10-year process, which has reached out to citizens, taken seriously each concern raised, and resulted in a restoration plan that will deliver the recreational and economic benefits that our citizens want, without unwanted consequences.
By moving cautiously with this plan, Missouri has had the benefit of learning from other successful elk restoration efforts in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. These restorations have resulted in proven disease-testing protocols – with no known cases of diseases being introduced to livestock or wildlife. Keeping Missouri’s livestock and wildlife healthy is important to our state’s economy, and I’m confident that the stringent animal-health protocols developed in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Agriculture are up to the task.
If you’re hoping to hear a bull elk bugle in your backyard soon, you should be aware that the proposed plan calls for a limited release of up to 150 elk into a “restoration zone” in southeast Missouri. The area has good elk habitat, not many roads and little agriculture, with virtually no row crops. The department will address elk that leave the restoration zone and wander onto land where they are not wanted. So, you may need to travel to witness Missouri elk in the wild. The good news is that the proposed restoration area, in parts of Shannon, Reynolds and Carter counties, consists of some of the most beautiful land in our state, and public access is abundant, with 79 percent of the 346-square-mile restoration zone held in public trust or privately owned and open to the public.
A great deal of work has gone into ensuring that abundant habitat is available and a thorough and detailed plan for herd management and animal health has been developed. I strongly encourage all interested parties to visit the department of conservation’s web site, www.mdc.mo.gov, to learn more about the details of elk restoration in Missouri.
Mike Schallon is the president of the Conservation Federation of Missouri.