A Good Day in Elk Country
“It was a good day, a big day, a day I’ve been thinking about for awhile.” So said Jason Sumners late this afternoon as he and MDC’s other deer/elk expert, Lonnie Hansen, walked and slid down a muddy hill in the Cumberland Mountains of southeastern Kentucky. They and a dozen other workers for MDC and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources were tired but satisfied with their day’s work--conducting veterinary workups of elk destined to replenish their species in the Missouri Ozarks. A lot was riding on their work. The job had to be done before a three-month quarantine to ensure the animals’ health, and the quarantine needs to be completed and the elk settled in Missouri before cows begin dropping calves. You could sense the high stakes in the urgent shouts, the calming whispers and the infectious laughter of crews trying to get elk in and out of a squeeze chute fast, with minimal stress. Wild elk get panicky around people, even when they aren’t being pushed down narrow metal corridors, getting poked with needles and having tags clipped to their ears. They bucked, kicked, barked, grunted and occasionally sounded as if they were cussing the vets. It was tense, strenuous, sometimes dangerous work, even for dedicated conservationists. It also was heady stuff, knowing they were making conservation history. The Kentucky crew was “paying it forward” for the elk given to the Bluegrass State for its elk-restoration program years ago. Hansen, Sumners and the other Missourians knew they were helping return the sound of bugling bull elk to Ozark hills that have not echoed with that sound for a century and a half. For them, that is the definition of a good day.