Posts Tagged ‘West Virginia elk’

wv elk calf

From the WV Metro News:

The recent birth of an elk calf is the first in West Virginia since elk were reintroduced in December 2016, according to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

The agency confirmed the birth Thursday, saying it has captured footage of the calf passing by a camera set up to monitor a pregnant cow separated from the herd.

Out of the 24 elk brought to West Virginia in 2016, six were pregnant, though two died soon after arriving. Officials believe at least one other cow is currently pregnant.

“For our elk population to be sustainable, there has to be reproduction, and this calf is the first of many to be born here in West Virginia,” Division of Natural Resources Director Stephen McDaniel said in a statement.

According to Randy Kelly, leader of the elk restoration project, there are no plans to capture or tag the newborn calf until it is older.

“We try not to stress the elk in any way,” he said.

The calf will be tracked by cameras and data collected from its mother’s radio collar and tags.


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Depiction of elk or wapiti by John James Audubon.

West Virginia is developing a plan to reintroduce elk.

From the Charleston Daily Mail:

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin drew applause over the weekend when he told a group of hunters and anglers it could be time to bring elk back to West Virginia.

The governor made the surprise announcement Saturday at a dinner hosted by Sportsmen for Tomblin, a political action committee.

The last native West Virginia elk was spotted 137 years ago. Early settlers over-hunted the animals and deforested the mountains where they lived.

Dave Arnold, the group’s treasurer, said Tomblin’s remarks drew “huge applause” from the 100 or so outdoors enthusiasts dining at the Days Hotel in Flatwoods.

A healthy elk herd could boost tourism from wildlife watchers and hunters alike, said Arnold, part owner of white water rafting resort Adventures on the Gorge. Non-hunters enjoy the large animals’ majesty and their distinct mating calls.

“Sometimes that makes a real big difference in how far people come for watch-able wildlife,” Arnold said. “And, once the population gets big enough – it’ll take years – there will be enough for hunting.”

The governor’s remarks Saturday were off-the-cuff, a spokeswoman said.

On Monday, the governor pointed to the successful reintroduction of elk in Kentucky and other states.

Already, some Kentucky elk are crossing the Tug Fork into West Virginia’s southern coalfields.

“Other states’ elk are migrating right now into West Virginia, and this is something we need to take a serious look into,” Tomblin said through spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin.

Arnold said Tomblin, a Logan County native, wanted to bring the elk back to the coalfields via Kentucky.

The reintroduction program in Kentucky has been more successful than expected. Other states, including Wisconsin, are looking to Kentucky to help them restock.

“I think his words were like, ‘It’s time we start reintroducing the elk into West Virginia, and we’re going to bring them into the southern counties, and we’re going to use Kentucky primarily because they are disease-free,'” Arnold said.

The last free-roaming, native West Virginia elk were spotted on the headwaters of the Cheat River in 1873 and near Webster Springs in 1875, according to the state Division of Natural Resources.

Someone attempted to bring elk back to the state starting in Pocahontas County in 1913. The effort failed.

The state has studied the matter several times since then. In August 2010, the state DNR published a draft plan. The department, spurred in part by the migrations from Kentucky, said the state needs an “effective, science-based elk management plan.”

In 1972, the state concluded a plan didn’t make sense because elk wouldn’t have enough range, would damage crops, would compete with deer for food and would be susceptible to brain worms.

The 2005 study was apparently more optimistic. It found three areas for elk to return to in West Virginia: the coalfields, the west central part of the state and the Monongahela region of the eastern mountains.

In a survey, about 75 percent of coalfields residents were enthusiastic about getting elk back to the state.

“Most residents wanted to have elk for viewing, hunting, or for the aesthetic pleasure of knowing elk are in West Virginia after years of absence,” the DNR found.

But there were concerns about “human/elk conflicts,” among other things.

Some state residents worried about crop damage and vehicle collisions. West Virginia already leads the nation in deer collisions.

Hitting an elk could be a bit like hitting several deer at once. Elk bulls weigh about 700 pounds. Elk cows weigh about 500 pounds. Deer weigh about a fourth as much.

The DNR’s survey also found “that since communities in the southern coalfields region had limited infrastructure, they might not have the ability to benefit economically from elk-associated tourism.”

Some people are complaining about this.

Most of them are Republicans.

But their complaints are honestly for naught.

Elk are going to come into West Virginia, whether they are introduced or not.

They are already working their way from adjacent areas of Kentucky into what are called the “coalfields”– really the whole southwestern part of the state.

If West Virginia’s DNR would help augment introductions through natural migrations, then we could have a health population of these creatures, which, I must say, taste so much better than white-tailed deer.

One noted Republican conspiracy theorist believes elk reintroduction has something to do with banning hunting:

Gov. Earl Ray announced that he is for the importation of elk into West Virginia so they can be hunted. A group called “Sportsmen for Earl Ray” is on board and the “group’s” address is that of Charleston lawyer Phil Reale who is associated with the Big Eared One’s [President Obama’s] campaign and, of course, bans against private citizens having guns for any reason. In addition to the danger to the traveling public [just imagine hitting one of those things in a small car] there is the problem with disease that spreads to domestic livestock — but does the ruling oligarchy care.

Perhaps that’s why they are trying to use brucellosis- and chronic wasting disease- free animals from Kentucky.

And I don’t know why anyone would think introducing an animal for hunting purposes would lead to a ban on guns.

These two issues do not logically follow each other.

In fact, they would be logically mutually exclusive.

My guess is the WVDNR will work out a plan.

And in maybe 10 or 15 years after reintroduction, we’ll have an elk season.

You won’t have to go to Wyoming to get one.

This species of deer was the dominant ungulate in the state at the time of settlement.

The main river that runs through the central part of the state is called the Elk River.

And I don’t think it got that name for no reason.

I bet there were large herds of elk grazing along its banks, and it was just an obvious name to give the river.

Maybe the elk will graze along its banks once again.

Maybe– but only if the conspiracy theorists don’t scuttle the deal.

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(Source for image)

From West Virginia Public Radio:

West Virginia’s Department of Natural Resources is taking a long look at the state’s growing elk population – an animal that last populated the state’s mountains in the late 1800s.

DNR wildlife officials have cameras trained to spot the 500-700 pound wildlife as it roams throughout West Virginia’s hills and valleys. The department’s assistant wildlife chief Paul Johansen said it’s by chance the elk are coming in from reestablishment programs in Kentucky and Virginia.

“Of course elk don’t recognize state borders,” Johansen said. “They have been observed here in West Virginia. As a result of that, our agency has engaged in a pretty extensive planning process to determine how best to manage that resource that the commonwealth of Kentucky has so graciously blessed us with.”

The elk are primarily found in West Virginia’s southwestern counties. As a result, Johansen said the organization needs to know the elk’s location to best know how to handle them.

“Part of that process is to identify where the elk are and come up with some kind of indices to look at abundance,” Johansen said. “The trail cameras are one technique we will use to monitor that elk population as it continues to be established in West Virginia.”

Johansen said there are concerns about the animal returning to the mountain state for the first time in more than a century.

“Whenever you put a large herbivore in the landscape like elk, you’re going to have positive benefits and you’re going to have negative benefits,” Johansen said.

“Certainly one of the concerns that many people have with regards to elk, especially if they’re in the wrong location, if you will, would be damage to agricultural crops, potential damage with regards to elk vehicle collisions.

“There are certainly a lot of folks, particularly hunters, that would love to see elk restored in West Virginia just from the standpoint of the recreational opportunities afforded by a reestablished elk population.”

West Virginia’s elk population will need to greatly increase before the game will be open for hunting. The DNR’s plan calls for at least 950 animals in a nearly 3,000 square mile area covering seven counties before any hunting activities could take place.

Elk (Cervus canadensis) should probably be referred to as wapiti. The “real” elk is actually what we North Americans call a moose, and the scientific name for the moose, Alces alces, refers to it being an elk.  The deer North Americans call an elk was once thought of as a subspecies of red deer, but an mtDNA study of red deer and other deer in the genus Cervus found that our elk is actually more closely related to the white-lipped and sika deer of Asia than to the European red deer.

Some try to rectify this issue of nomenclature by calling C. canadensis “the North American elk.” This would work, except for two problems:  Moose are found in Eurasia, and the wapiti is found in Central and Northeast Asia.   These are the only deer with anything that approaches a Holarctic distribution.  There are no roe deer or muntjac in North America, and the only white-tailed deer in Europe have been introduced.

So I like to call them wapiti.

Unfortunately, this word is so rarely used that no one knows what I’m talking about.

And trying to explain that Norwegian elkhounds actually hunted moose causes even more confusion.

And did you know that the eland antelope of Africa are also named after the elk?

I guess I’m reduced to calling them elk, even though the term is confusing and inaccurate.

Officially, West Virginia has only one species of deer.  The white-tailed deer is very widely distributed. It’s the deer everyone hunts around here.

Kentucky reintroduced the elk in 1997 from thriving Western populations. They took to the milder Kentucky climate very well, and they have expanded throughout Eastern Kentucky. Currently, Kentucky has the largest elk population east of Montana.

The Kentucky elk range extends up to Kentucky’s border with West Virginia. This part of Kentucky is a major coal mining region, as is that part of West Virginia that lies across the border. There are a lot of remote areas in this part the country, and there are lots of reclaimed strip mines that could provide some open forage for the deer.

That means that they could easily expand into West Virginia. There was a well-publicized herd that popped up in Logan and Boone Counties, but they may not have arrived into the state on their own volition.   It’s a lot easier to procure elk– including elk/red deer hybrids– than one might think.

However, it is very likely that Kentucky elk will make it into West Virginia. The state farm bureau came out strongly against the state introducing the species, but there is nothing stopping the Kentucky elk from moving into West Virginia.

Which is why the state is developing an elk management program.


Officially, the last elk killed in West Virginia was in 1875.

However, I came across an account of an elk calf that was captured in the Bear Fork region of Calhoun County, which is a very remote part of the state. It’s actually not very far from where my grandpa grew up:

A party of hunters composed of Mark Farnsworth and Perry Cox, of Auburn, and Army Hardman, of Harrisville, passed through Glenville a few days ago with a subject of the animal kingdom now unknown in a wild state in West Virginia.

The party, including the wives of the members, was returning home from an eight-month camping trip on the waters of Bear Fork and Steer Creek.

They had a live baby elk — perhaps the last to be captured in this state — which was the chief object of attention among a whole menagerie of living denizens which had been captured.

Another very interesting specimen was a Belgian fox. This animal, a native of northern regions, is about twice the size of our native fox.

For seventeen days Mr. Hardman was lost in the forest. The last two days he spent in prayer to which, he said, he owed his deliverance.

The hunters had quite an array of small arms. Ten shotguns, eleven rifles, one French machine gun, firing 100 shots a minute and many smaller arms constituted their armament.

A mockin and rifle, which had been presented Mr. Farnsworth by ex-President Roosevelt and used by him on his South American trip, attracted a great deal of attention.

The “Belgian fox” mentioned in this story is a native red fox.  In the Eastern US, these foxes are less common than introduced British reds. They never were common in West Virginia.

However, this elk calf could have been the last surviving member of its species in the state.

Until the Kentucky elk started wandering north and east.

When you read that this hunting party came with a French machine gun, you can see why elk and other large game didn’t last too long around here!


There is a longer story on the West Virginia elk in the Charleston Gazette.

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