Elk Restoration

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Elk must clear hurdles if they are to return to Missouri
An action plan approved by the Conservation Commission outlines problems that must be addressed before restoration is attempted.

JEFFERSON CITY -- The Missouri Conservation Commission has approved a seven-part action plan for the Department of Conservation to follow before a final decision about whether to reintroduce elk to the state.

The Commission voted unanimously Feb. 2 to approve the plan, which is to be executed by December 2002. The plan's seven phases are:
1. Review of the elk feasibility study the Conservation Department conducted from 1998 through 2000.
2. Establish a staff elk coordination group to execute the action plan.
3. Form an Elk Reintroduction Advisory Committee with representatives from all interested groups.
4. Identify potential impacts of elk restoration on biological diversity, water quality, soils and on the Conservation Department's ongoing Missouri Ozark Forest Ecosystem Project.
5. Develop details of cooperative elk habitat development agreements with public agencies.
6. Identify sources of disease-free elk for introduction and protocols for testing for disease before release.
7. Review findings and recommendations of the Elk Reintroduction Advisory Committee and submit recommendations to the Conservation Commission by December 2002.

The Elk Reintroduction Advisory Committee is to consist of four to six landowners who live in the potential elk reintroduction area, two or three local community leaders, two or three local elected officials, one representative of the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation, one local member of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, one local member of the Missouri Elk Breeders Association, one representative of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, one representative of the Wild Elk Institute of Missouri and one representative of the Conservation Federation of Missouri.

The committee is to hold its first meeting by Aug. 15, 2001. Its meetings will be public, and minutes will be available following each meeting.

The committee's responsibilities will include identifying an elk reintroduction zone, devising a plan to limit the number of elk to 250, outlining measures to contain elk within the specified zone and designing an elk-hunting protocol.

The committee also will study implications of disease in a wild elk population for native white- tailed deer, captive elk and deer, other wildlife and domestic livestock.

Committee members will study the feasibility of establishing a private fund or insurance policy to pay for property damage caused by elk. This would include damage to forage, crops and fences and elk/vehicle collisions. The action plan calls for the committee to devise a method of assessing damage "as verified by an independent board using carefully established criteria."

Potential effects on tourism, a volunteer program to repair elk damage, a privately funded elk monitoring program and an elk information and education program also will be on the committee's agenda.

Finally, the Elk Restoration Advisory Committee will identify criteria or threshold levels of elk- vehicle collisions, property damage, disease transmission or other problems that would trigger complete removal of elk. The committee is to report its findings to the Conservation Commission in September 2002.

The scenario contemplated in the action plan is an experimental release of 35 to 40 elk. Hunting would maintain the population at no more than 250 elk and ensure that they did not expand their range beyond the Peck Ranch or Irish Wilderness area of southeastern Missouri.

Elk management would be conducted through a partnership of the Conservation Department, the Elk Reintroduction Advisory Committee of local landowners, local public officials, sportsmen and local representatives of state and federal government agencies in the reintroduction area.

Copies of the action plan are available online at http://www.missouriconservation.org/nathis/mammals/elk.

- Jim Low -
 


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