Julius Caesar famously described one of his military campaigns with “Veni, vidi, vici.” That’s Latin for “I came, I saw, I conquered.” If I had to sum up the reaction of news media who visited the epicenter of Missouri’s elk-restoration program earlier this week, I would say “Veni, vidi, wowie!”
On Tuesday and Wednesday, MDC played host to 20 print and electronic media reporters and editors. They toured Peck Ranch Conservation Area, a 36-square-mile chunk of the Ozarks where MDC has been restoring native plants and animals since the early 1940s. The area now is the centerpiece of the 221,000-acre elk-restoration zone the covers parts of Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties.
The first 34 elk scheduled to arrive in Missouri are being held in Kentucky until April 30. To ensure the elk’s safety, MDC is not allowing the public or news media to attend the animals’ arrival in a remote part of Peck Ranch. The elk will spend two or three weeks in a holding pen before being released into Peck Ranch’s 12,000-acre refuge area. The pen and refuge will remain closed until mid-summer to allow pregnant cows to deliver calves and settle in. After that, all of Peck Ranch will be open to the public. By autumn, the rugged hills will echo to the bugles of bull elk for the first time in more than 150 years.
Naturally, Missourians are curious about the holding facility and the area the elk will inhabit when they are released. MDC invited news media to the area to satisfy that curiosity. MDC staff on hand for the tours included Resource Scientist Lonnie Hansen, Elk Restoration Program Coordinator Ron Dent, Peck Ranch Area Manager Ryan Houf, Conservation Commissioner Chip McGeehan and Conservation Department Deputy Director Tim Ripperger. Reporters got to ask all the questions they wanted and photograph the area and elk-holding facility. Just as important, they saw firsthand how 30 years of ecological restoration have returned Peck Ranch to conditions similar to those that existed a century and a half ago, making it a place that elk will want to put down roots.
Peck Ranch’s restoration history began with a flock of about 20 wild turkeys that survived unregulated hunting, cut-and-run logging and other abusive land practices in the early 20th century. That handful of survivors and another from Caney Mountain CA fueled a restoration program that created some of the most bountiful turkey hunting in the world.
Many of the media corps already knew the story of turkey restoration but were surprised to learn that Peck Ranch also has played an important role in bringing back species as diverse as the collared lizard, eastern gammagrass (known as “the queen of the grasses”) and Bachman’s sparrow.
The collared lizard was absent from most of its former homes on Ozarks glades for decades. So it was a rare treat when a pair of the lizards made appearances both days of the elk-restoration tour. Photographers had a rare chance to document a living conservation success story. Reporters also saw the dramatic results that management techniques such as prescribed burning have wrought at Peck Ranch.
As interesting as these stories are individually, they are only a few facets of a jewel that MDC has been polishing for more than 30 years. By returning of thousands of acres to the savannas, grassy woodlands and glades that historically existed on Peck Ranch, MDC has made possible the return of many natives. Elk restoration is the latest chapter in Peck Ranch’s continuing restoration saga.