MDC opens gate on second elk cohort
SUMMERSVILLE, Mo. – Missouri’s free-ranging elk herd got a boost Tuesday (June 19), as the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) released 33 elk at Peck Ranch Conservation Area (CA) in Carter County. Another release of 13 elk is planned for Saturday on neighboring land in the elk-restoration zone.
In May, MDC brought 35 elk from Kentucky and placed them in holding pens at Peck Ranch CA. Since then, 11 of the elk cows have produced calves, bringing the number of elk available for release this year to 46. Elk still in holding pens at Peck Ranch CA after the Tuesday release will be taken to land owned by The Nature Conservancy and released to the wild on Saturday.
“Eastern elk herds often have small home ranges,” says Elk Restoration Program Coordinator Ron Dent. “Our goal with moving a small group of elk to The Nature Conservancy’s property is to form a nucleus in the center of the restoration zone.”
MDC launched the elk-restoration program in 2011, when it brought 34 elk from Kentucky. Dent says this year’s releases will bring Missouri’s free-ranging elk population to approximately 80. In addition, MDC biologists expect the majority of last year’s cows to bear young this year.
“The elk in the holding pen look very healtlhy,” says Dent. “In fact, some of the animals gained weight while in the holding pen in Kentucky. A mild winter, modifications to the holding pen in Kentucky and excellent care by MDC caretakers hired to look after the elk have left the animals in very good condition.”
Hot, dry weather has reduced the movement of free-ranging elk. Dent says they are making use of natural forage available in shady portions of the 221,000-acre elk-restoration zone in Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties.
“The type of GPS collar we are using doesn’t allow us to know where the animals are every minute of the day,” says Dent. “That was never their purpose. But we do know from periodic position reports that elk spend the majority of their time on food plots and in open woodlands at Peck Ranch. They are even coming back to holding pens.”
The 12,000-acre central refuge area of Peck Ranch CA currently is closed to the public to minimize disturbance of cow-calf pairs as they settle into their new surroundings. The portion of Peck Ranch CA outside the marked refuge fence remains open to hunting and other activities. Dent said MDC will announce the reopening of the refuge some time in July.
Missouri’s elk-restoration program has relied heavily on partnerships with other government agencies and citizen conservation groups. Major funding has come from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), whose volunteers also have provided substantial assistance with labor to build holding pens at Peck Ranch CA. The Big Game Hunters Foundation also has donated funds for the project.
MDC also is working with landowners in and around the elk-restoration zone to increase the quality of habitat for elk and other wildlife. Workshops and cost-share programs are designed to help landowners who want elk on their property. Such habitat work on public and private land will continue to be a priority for MDC as elk restoration progresses.
More information about elk restoration in Missouri is available at go.usa.gov/VoX.