KIRKSVILLE — After being missing for 145 years, elk are soon to hoof a section of southern Missouri’s wilds.
The Conservation Commission, the governing body of the Missouri Department of Conservation, voted unanimously in favor of restoring elk, a Missouri native, at its meeting Friday.
Slated for spring and estimated to cost $411,185, the Gov. Jay Nixon-approved elk restoration project will release up to 150 elk in a 221,509-acre plot of mixed woodland and glade habitats encompassing Reynolds, Carter and Shannon counties in southern Missouri, according to the conservation department’s approved proposal.
The elk will be transported from Arkansas and Kentucky, which each have comparatively larger elk populations than that planned for Missouri.
Nixon, while attending the Missouri Conservation Federation’s 75th anniversary on Sept. 10, said the elk would add to the state's economy by increasing tourism revenue and hunting — which, in turn, will control the population.
"The targeted restoration of elk in southern Missouri is an important turning point in our state's tradition of successful wildlife management," Nixon said in a news release shortly after the commission meeting. "... Because of our work, the bugle call of native elk will echo across southern Missouri once again, and future generations will be able to enjoy the wonders of this magnificent species."
Many organizations came together to support restoring elk in the state. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will provide financial assistance and volunteer support, and the Nature Conservancy along with the L-A-D Foundation, founded by Missouri conservationist Leo Drey, own portions of the restoration zone. The Missouri Conservation Federation also voiced a strong commitment for the project.
David Ledford, president and CEO of Kentucky's Appalachian Wildlife Foundation, said their restored elk population far exceeds that of the Missouri proposal and, “believe it or not, the sun still comes up in the morning."
The Missouri Farm Bureau, though, strongly opposed the restoration. The bureau has been against the idea since it was first introduced a decade ago, Blake Hurst, vice-president of the bureau, said during the public comment section of the meeting.
He advised the commission to “re-examine this idea and not restore elk in Missouri.”
During the meeting, Hurst voiced the following concerns:
- Car accidents involving the elk becoming a public safety hazard.
- Property damage to fence lines and crops.
- The spread of disease to livestock.
- The cost of the overall project.
Bobby Simpson, a Dent County farmer, questioned whether public input gathered prior to the commission meeting was accurate. He said only seven of the 137 attendees in Salem, were supportive of elk, and not a single person raised a hand in Mountain Grove. Both cities surround the restoration zone.
“This is my legacy you’re holding in your hands,” Simpson said to the commission. “Are elk more important than farmers in the Ozarks?”
Lonnie Hansen, deer biologist for the conservation department, said at the meeting that comments gathered during the public meetings favored the idea five to one. He added that 2,955 comments were gathered through the department’s website, telephone calls and other media. The comments favored the idea with a 73-percent majority, Hansen said.