COLUMBIA — The Missouri Department of Conservation now estimates that an elk hunting season in the state will begin in 2016.
The department slowly reintroduced elk from 2010 until earlier this year, trapping about 50 annually in Kentucky and then bringing them to the Peck Ranch Conservation Area in southeast Missouri for observation. The program has since moved to its operational phase, in which the herd will grow only via reproduction.
Elk were common in Missouri before European settlement but had been eradicated from the state by the end of the Civil War. Resource scientist Lonnie Hansen says "about 100" elk are now in the herd following several dying off during relocation and last year's drought.
"I'd be pleased if we had 125 animals in the herd" by the end of this year, Hansen said.
The department wants at least 200 elk in the herd before it will give any consideration to allowing elk hunting, which might not happen for another three years, Hansen predicted. He previously expected hunting to start in 2015, according to previous Missourian reporting.
The Missouri Department of conservation will only release a few elk hunting permits once the herd reaches 200 animals. The department will release the full allotment of 30 to 40 licenses once the herd reaches 400.
"We'd like to see them become part of the natural landscape," Hansen said about the animals.
Reintroducing elk to the state could be beneficial not only to the ecosystem of Missouri, but also the economy. Joe Jerek, the department's news services coordinator, said the conservation areas could "expect to see a lot of people" hoping to catch a glimpse of the new herd.
"There are lots of people that just want to see them," he said. "It brings another large native species back to Missouri."
According to the department's website, residents' interest in reintroducing elk led to a restoration feasibility study in 2000, but that was suspended a year later because of fears of Chronic Wasting Disease the elk could introduce to local livestock.
A method for testing for the disease and continued interest in having elk revived the reintroduction effort in 2010.
The study was suspended because of to fears over Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) the elk could potentially introduce into local livestock, but a method for testing CWD was created. That and the continued interest in having elk revived the reintroduction effort in 2010.
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