Conservation Department traps 49 elk for introduction to Missouri

Kentucky elk to be watched for disease for 90 days
Tuesday, January 25, 2011 | 6:59 p.m. CST; updated 8:33 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Several elk, mostly cows (females) and spikes (young males), stand behind an 8-foot high, double-fenced holding pen constructed on the property of a reclaimed surface coal mine near Stoney Fork, Ky., on Friday. After a 90-day holding period, the elk will be loaded into a trailer and moved to southeast Missouri.

PINEVILLE, Ky. — All the Missouri Department of Conservation can do now is wait.

After the clock reached midnight Saturday in Pineville, Ky., the department wrapped up its two-month effort to bait and trap elk, finishing with 49 total. Now it must wait a mandatory 90 days to test the animals for a series of diseases before they can be introduced in Missouri, where the elk were once native.

Take a look

The Missouri Department of Conservation posted this video on YouTube to explain how it will bait, trap and handle elk in Kentucky during the early stages of an effort to bring the animals here.

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Clint Dalbom, private land services regional supervisor for the Conservation Department, said the elk will become the first group to be transported to Carter, Shannon and Reynolds counties in Missouri as part of a three-year effort to restore the wild animals to the state. The department plans to trap and transport about 50 more elk in each of the next two years, for a total of about 150.

The Conservation Department worked with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to establish a location on the Begley Wildlife Management Area in Pineville and learn how to bait and trap the elk. Kentucky did its own restoration project from 1997 to 2002 and now has a population of about 10,000 elk.

Tina Brunjes, a deer and elk program coordinator for the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources Department, said her agency was happy to help Missouri get its restoration started.

“It’s very cool. I get to see all the (elk) benefits we have, and get another state rolling,” Brunjes said. “I won’t have my name on that, but I’ll know I was a part of it.”

Dalbom, who was the on-site supervisor, said technology was an issue at first. The rope-and-pulley system that shuts the door to the entrapment often would freeze, and elk sometimes would be standing in the gateway, preventing the door from shutting.

“Things started out slow, and we didn’t think we were doing well,” Dalbom said. “I was given until the first week of February, but we beat that.”

The department used alfalfa hay and corn to lead the elk into one of its two 20-foot perimeter traps. Once the elk were inside, the workers loaded them through a chute and into a livestock trailer to take them to a holding pen. The holding pen contains three large corrals that can hold anywhere from 15 to 20 elk each.

Missouri built the traps in the first week of December but didn’t start trapping elk until Jan. 9. They finished on Saturday. The 15 workers on site alternated watching the traps in 12-hour shifts.

“It was hours of extreme boredom, interrupted by extreme panic,” Tim Brooks, who works for the Conservation Department, said.

The elk are now undergoing a series of blood tests for diseases such as chronic wasting disease, brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis to prevent the spread of disease to livestock and other wild animals, such as white-tailed deer, in Missouri. After the mandatory 90 days of testing, the elk will be loaded into livestock trailers and driven nonstop to Missouri, a trip of a little more than 500 miles.

None of this guarantees that Missouri will receive all 49 elk by April. Dalbom said some elk might escape or be turned down because of disease.

“I’m a little concerned because 90 days is a long time for an animal to spend in a pen,” Dalbom said. “Hopefully we have 49 by the end of this trip, but the fact remains to be seen.”

Dalbom said the goal of 150 elk in three years is inexact. The plan, which was passed in October, calls for the elk to be released in the Peck Ranch Conservation Area. From there, the elk will be free to roam a 346-square-mile restoration zone that spans the three counties.

Although the restoration plan won the approval of the Missouri Conservation Commission, it faced stiff opposition from the Missouri Farm Bureau. The bureau cited concerns that the elk might cause car accidents, damage property and spread diseases.

Dalbom, however, said the opinions of residents from the restoration zones were positive during public hearings. He said the elk were once native to Missouri and could become a tourist attraction, providing an economic boost to the region.

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