Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Elk Problems in Eastern KY

Too many car/elk accidents

Elk were extirpated (made locally extinct) in Kentucky before 1850. In 1987, Kentucky's Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources began reintroducing elk in 16 counties of southeastern Kentucky. The repopulation project has been (pardon the pun) wildly successful.

The elk were released into the most mountainous part of the state. Mining is a major industry there. Many large strip-mine sites were made fit for wildlife when abandoned, as required by state law. Most of the reclaimed sites are now open, grassy fields -- an abundant source of food for the elk.

The elk have thrived in Kentucky. They are achieving a 90% breeding success rate, and a 92% calf survival rate. The absence of predators, relatively mild Kentucky winters and abundant food sources have not only contributed to the remarkable population growth, but also account for the fact that the Kentucky elk are on average 15% larger than elk found in western states. By July 2000, Kentucky had the largest free ranging, wild elk herd east of Montana.

Source: The Kentucky Elk Herd

Population projections have been exceeded.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife predicted the population would reach 10,000 in 2013. Kristina Brunjes, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife big game coordinator, said they are starting to get some research data that indicates they may hit that number in 2009

Source: "The Elk's Return to Kentucky", by Carol L. Spence,  published Spring, 2009, in a University of Kentucky College of Agriculture magazine

Black bears and cougars are being sighted more often in eastern KY, but there aren't enough of them to control the growing elk population. In the absence of other predators, Kentucky is depending on hunters. In 2009, Kentucky issued 250 bull tags and 750 cow tags. A total of 765 elk were harvested, if I am reading the figures correctly.

With so many elk in the mountains, it was inevitable that drivers would encounter elk on the roads. Collisions of cars and elk have been a big problem. In Bell County, KY, county officials recently arranged a public meeting with state wildlife officials so local residents could complain in person.

Fish and Wildlife Resources Commissioner Taylor Orr and Wildlife Division Director Karen Wahlberg said they are working on solutions, such as setting traps in problem areas and allowing more... locals to participate in elk hunts.

Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock, who hosted the forum as a way to make sure state wildlife officials understood the magnitude of the problem, said another meeting would be held.

"Instead of saying 'if we have a problem', let's agree we do have a problem," Brock said.

Source: "Residents in southeastern KY. angry about elk", Associated Press article published in the Lexington Herald-Leader, January 25, 2010

I hit a deer with my car a few years ago, and I know how dangerous, unsettling, and expensive that was. I shudder to think of an animal several times larger than a deer plunging into the path of my car. On the other hand, I do like to think of wild elk roaming the mountains.

Image credit: Cervus elaphus.(Robert Karges II / USFWS)



Genevieve, I didn't know the extend of the elk population in Kentucky until you pointed it out in this post. I feel that we are playing with mother nature in figuring out a solution to this large population. Traps make me shutter. I do hope the state of KY opts for a natural solution of predator expansion such as the bear and cougar. Thanks for the good post. -- barbara

Genevieve said...

I think that trapping the elk means that they lure the elk into a corral or similar live trap and then attempt to relocate them.

As for the predators, a big wolf population would also help control the elk, but do we want to go that far?!

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