Bill would make Conservation Department responsible for elk

Agency would have to compensate for damage to farmland, cattle, crops and cars
Saturday, February 19, 2011 | 5:11 p.m. CST; updated 1:52 a.m. CST, Sunday, February 20, 2011

COLUMBIA — State Reps. Rodney Schad and Casey Guernsey said they were shocked when they learned of the Missouri Conservation Commission’s decision to reintroduce elk to the state. Both own farms, and they fear elk will roam onto and damage farmland.

Guernsey, R-Bethany, said deer and other wild animals already cause damage at his farm. Elk, which can weigh several hundred pounds, could cause thousands of dollars in damage by breaking fences, trampling crops and depleting cattle pastures, he said.

Schad, R-Versailles, shares the concern. That’s why he is sponsoring a bill that would give the Missouri Department of Conservation ownership of elk and hold it responsible for any damage they cause. The House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee, which Schad chairs, will hold a hearing on the bill at 1 p.m. Monday.

“For the (conservation) commission to approve something like (the elk restoration project) is really unbelievable,” Schad said. “I know this won’t have any effect on the restoration, but if and when there are elk accidents, it will hold (the Conservation Department) responsible.”

Guernsey and 10 other representatives are co-sponsoring the bill.

“I cannot fathom how anyone can buy into the fact that elk won’t affect farmers in the area or the people,” Guernsey said.

If passed, the bill would require that the Conservation Department reimburse residents for:

  • The value of crops and pasture damaged by wild elk.
  • Losses suffered by livestock producers as a result of harassment or disease spread by elk.
  • Damage by elk to private property.
  • Damage to licensed vehicles caused by collisions with elk.

The bill also would allow people to kill elk that are damaging their property.

Aaron Jeffries, the Conservation Department’s legislative liaison, said the bill would mark the first time the agency has been held financially responsible for any wild animal. Kentucky, Kansas, Arkansas and other states have reintroduced elk without laws requiring wildlife agencies to reimburse people for damage.

“To hold us liable for the elk sets a poor policy for what’s next,” Jeffries said. “It’s really hard to determine where you draw the line then.”

Jeffries said the department won’t change its three-year plan to bring 150 elk to Missouri. Thirty-eight elk are being held in Kentucky for 90 days while agents test them for disease.

Jeffries said the department will try to minimize damage from elk by releasing them only in an area of Shannon, Reynolds and Carter counties that features dense forests and fewer roads and farms.

“We might have to consider how to manage the elk,” Jeffries said if the new bill is passed. “But that’s way down the line.”

Schad said he is confident the bill will pass.

“I’ve talked to a lot of representatives and senators, and there seems to be a lot of interest in it passing,” Schad said.

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