Elk were found throughout Missouri prior to European settlement. Historical accounts indicate elk were likely extirpated from the state by 1865. Prompted by citizen requests, the Department conducted an elk reintroduction feasibility study in 2000. Results of the study indicated that elk restoration in Missouri was biologically feasible in portions of the Ozarks, and statewide the public supported the restoration of elk. However, several considerations complicated the restoration of elk at the time. Due to chronic wasting disease and habitat concerns, the Commission suspended the Department’s consideration of an elk restoration in 2001, and directed staff to facilitate additional discussions to determine if concerns regarding elk restoration could be addressed to the satisfaction of citizens.
A recent letter from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, continued citizen interest in elk restoration and questions from Commissioners have stimulated the following update on biological and social issues associated with elk restoration in Missouri. In fact, 90 percent of acreage in the focused restoration zone is held by public and private landowners who have indicated their support of the effort. Recent elk restoration successes in Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are also encouraging. The following recommendations are proposed to address previous concerns and may be modified according to citizen input and Commission guidance if a restoration effort moves forward.
Elk Restoration Zone
A defined geography around Peck Ranch Conservation Area was identified in the 2000 elk reintroduction feasibility study as a potential restoration site. The restoration zone covered parts of Carter, Shannon and Reynolds counties. This landscape was chosen because of: 1) suitable habitat conditions, 2) high public land ownership, 3) low public road density and 4) low density of row crops and livestock. The map on this page outlines the area proposed in the 2000 elk reintroduction feasibility study. This range could be modified as a result of input from citizens.
Successful management of Missouri’s natural resources involves a partnership with citizens, organizations and agencies. The Department is actively engaging citizens and organizations to gather input prior to a restoration effort being presented to the Conservation Commission in the following ways:
- Holding three informational meetings at locations around the restoration zone.
- Continuing to provide restoration information on the MDC website, which includes the opportunity for public comment, as well as a video, information in the Missouri Conservationist and a brochure to inform citizens.
- Continuing to engage citizens state and federal agencies, and conservation and agriculture organizations.
Proposed Restoration Protocols
DISEASE TESTING: Working in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, we have developed stringent animal health testing guidelines to ensure that Missouri’s wildlife and livestock remain healthy. The protocol will require that all free-ranging elk brought into Missouri originate from herds with no evidence of health issues and would go through extensive disease testing prior to moving the animals to Missouri and prior to release. In addition, since 2000, there has been significant progress made in our understanding of chronic wasting disease, including a live-animal test for elk. Other states with successful elk restoration projects have followed similar health protocols that have resulted in no cases of disease transmission to livestock or wildlife.
RELEASE PROTOCOL: We recommend a “soft release.” In a soft release elk would be confined for five to six weeks in the restoration zone on MDC property. Prior to release, the health of the elk would be evaluated, their movements minimized and they would be fitted with radio telemetry collars. This type of release holds many benefits over a “hard release.” A temporary holding facility could be constructed at Peck Ranch Conservation Area.
HERD MANAGEMENT AND MONITORING: The Department has developed—and would strictly enforce— procedures to address any elk that strays onto land where they are not welcome. Survival and reproductive rates and population growth would be monitored and, once elk were established, hunting would be used to maintain numbers at desired levels.
ECONOMIC BENEFITS: Experience from other states such as Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Kentucky indicate that considerable economic benefits can be generated from elk ecotourism and hunting. Information highlighting the potential economic impacts of an elk restoration will be available to local chambers of commerce and others.
FUNDING: The Department will seek outside funding to help pay for a restoration program. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has provided financial support for restoration programs in other states and has recently expressed interest in contributing to elk restoration in Missouri.
HABITAT MANAGEMENT: The Department would work—providing technical and financial assistance— with landowners wanting to improve habitat conditions for elk on their property. Conservation areas in the elk restoration zone are currently managed in ways (e.g., green browse production, timber harvest, woodland and glade restoration) that encourage the elk to remain on those lands.
Share Your Comments
We value citizen input and welcome comments from all interested parties. Comments can be made online at www.MissouriConservation.org/contact-us under “Elk Restoration Comments” or mailed to: Missouri Department of Conservation, Director’s Office, PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102–0180
Key Points To Remember About Elk Restoration In Missouri
- Elk is a native species to Missouri, and restoring native species holds many benefits.
- Elk restoration will be limited to a targeted restoration zone in southeast Missouri.
- Elk restoration will include herd-management guidelines, with hunting as the primary tool to maintain an appropriate population.
- Elk restoration will include health protocols, such as disease testing, to ensure the health of domestic livestock and other wildlife.
- Elk restoration will include plans for dealing with elk that wander where they are not welcome.
- Elk restoration in other states has provided resource and economic benefits.