Conservation commission approves elk restoration plan

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KIRKSVILLE MO – The Missouri Conservation Commission today approved an elk restoration plan that includes health protocols, herd management guidelines and habitat management recommendations. Releases of elk could begin as soon as early 2011.

The plan calls for releasing wild elk in a 346-square-mile (221,509 acres) elk restoration zone in parts of Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties. The Conservation Department selected this limited restoration zone because of extensive public lands, suitable habitat, low road density, minimal agricultural activity and landowner support.

To ensure that Missouri’s wildlife and livestock remain healthy, the plan includes health testing guidelines developed by the Missouri Departments of Conservation and Agriculture.

“The developed animal-health-testing protocol has been proven in other states and meets or exceeds health-testing requirements to move livestock or captive elk,” said State Veterinarian Dr. Taylor Woods.

The plan includes procedures to address elk that leave the restoration zone onto private land where they are not welcome and hunting to manage the herd in future years. All released elk will be fitted with radio collars to permit tracking their movements.

The plan calls for continued habitat management on public lands and cost share incentives for private landowners wanting to attract elk to their land in the restoration zone. Since 2000, there have been significant habitat improvements on public land in the restoration zone that will benefit elk.

Organizations including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation have committed to contributing financial resources and volunteer time to help with elk restoration in Missouri.

Director Robert Ziehmer said the Department has actively engaged citizens and organizations to gather input on elk restoration.

“A key component of Missouri’s plan is the defined restoration zone. Given habitat within this zone, the limited number of elk to be released, established health protocols, monitoring commitment, and solid citizen and landowner support, implementation will provide natural-resource and recreational benefits,” said Ziehmer.

Elk restoration programs in Arkansas, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Tennessee have successfully restored limited elk populations with economic benefits through wildlife viewing and hunting.

Jim Smith, owner of Cross Country Trail Ride in Eminence, said restoring elk to the Missouri Ozarks will help his business by extending the tourism season.

“The natural beauty, abundant wildlife and crystal clear streams draw people to the Ozarks. Restoring elk will be an extra attraction.”

 Elk are native to the Show-Me State but were gone by the mid-1800s, due to unregulated hunting and habitat changes.