GUEST OP-ED: West Virginia Welfare Elk

Special to HuntingtonNews.Net
GUEST OP-ED: West Virginia Welfare Elk

by Harry Moran II

Once again some West Virginians are depending on support from outside the state. In this case, however, it is the management of the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.

 They have decided that, despite both a biological study done by State University of New York and a sociological study done by Cornell University showing there were three areas where elk could be successfully introduced in West Virginia, they are going to refuse to do that themselves.

The West Virginia DNR is depending on donations from the state of Kentucky and soon the state of Virginia. They will just set by and let the few strays we can get that migrate into West Virginia be our stocking source and only then because it is going to happen whether they want it to or not. This will insure that the best area we have for elk may never be stocked and that our elk herd will take decades to build and always be small.

The DNR says the West Virginia Farm Bureau interferes with a lot of their work, but I suspect they are no worse than the Farm Bureaus in the rest of the states reintroducing elk. If they are, why hasn't the DNR asked hunters to join them in lobbying the state legislature? The director of the wildlife division has told hunters that the DNR spends a lot of its time defending hunting in the legislature against proposals from groups like the West Virginia Farm Bureau.

Kentucky, using the very same type of terrain we have in the southwestern coal fields, has the largest elk herd east of the Mississippi. This is because their Department of Natural Resources actually listens to the hunters of that state. Recently Virginia has decided to follow in their foot steps and reintroduce elk in that state too. Pennsylvania has had its elk herd since 1913. Tennessee has reintroduced elk, along with North Carolina. The West Virginia DNR's wildlife director and the DNR director himself has made no attempt to reintroduce elk in West Virginia however, even though hunters have been working toward this goal for a couple of decades.

 The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, along with supporting WV hunting organizations, such as the West Virginia Trophy Hunters Association, paid for the two university studies to no avail. All West Virginia hunters hear from the WV DNR are excuses as to why they can't do the same as the states around us. They refuse to listen to the hunters that pay their wages. They ignore the wishes of the hunters in the state. Their public hearings are always held in small out of the way places to reduce the turn out. 

They haven't done a poll of hunters either, to see what percentage want elk reintroduced. I suspect it would exceed 80%. Missouri will reintroduce 150 elk in 2011. Missouri has just started re-introduction of elk there. They are getting their elk from Kentucky, yet our DNR will not. Apparently Missouri, Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Tennessee's DNRs are all wrong, since the WV DNR says we can't verify any elk are CWD free and that is the main excuse for not re-introducing them here. The Kentucky strays however, must be alright with the DNR though, since they are being accepted as fast as they come.

Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina bring in quite a bit of revenue from the elk that are in their states. There are increased tourism dollars in all three states. In addition, 46,000 hunters applied for elk permits in Kentucky in 2009, at $10 per applicant. There are over 11,000 elk there now. They are, on average, 15% larger than their western counterparts. In 2007 the average hunter winning one of the permits in Kentucky spent $1,148.00 in the state. In just one location, with 74 elk in a confined area at Land Between the Lakes in Kentucky, 130,000 visitors pay $5 each to drive through the area to see the elk each year. That is $650,000 just from entrance fees and not counting money spent at restaurants, gas stations, and motels. 

Pennsylvania has only 500 elk, yet elk viewing attracts over 75,000 visitors each year to one small town there. Elk are a great source of revenue, but the WV DNR and the governor's office ignores that. I live in Elkview, WV, near the Elk River. Both names are based on the elk that used to roam these hills. WV hunters need to stand up and remind the WV DNR that they work for us, There is no reason for West Virginia to once again be receiving handouts from other states. There also is no reason to allow the WV DNR to continue to ignore the desire for elk reintroduction by the hunters. In the mean time, make any donations for elk conservation to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and tell them to use it in Kentucky and Virginia. At least we will get a few elk from our friends there.