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The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has reopened a study to determine the pros and cons of restoring free-range elk to Missouri.
Elk in Missouri is not so uncommon. Actually, elk once lived in Missouri until around 1894, according to Kevin Hinkebein, president of the Missouri Elk Farmers Association.
In the late 1980s elk that were trapped in national parks were made available to private farmers and ranchers. These elk were relocated to reduce the population for proper management of the area and the elk.
Leon Combs, of Bradleyville, who operates Beaver Creek Elk and Cattle Ranch near Brownbranch, is one of the best-known elk ranchers in this area. Combs is a member of the North American Elk Breeders Association which, in the past has opposed introduction of wild elk herds into the state.
Interest in raising elk increased dramatically in the 1990s due to the Asian demand for velvet antler. Elk meat markets have since been developed and the meat is prized by many restaurants and individuals who enjoy the fine quality of elk meat, Hinkebein said.
Elk are considered a domestic animal in Missouri as are beef, hogs and sheep. The Department of Agriculture (MDA) regulates the production and transportation of domestic elk in Missouri.
According to the MDC, an area in the southeastern part of the state has been chosen for elk restocking, where there is little vehicle traffic. Peck Ranch, a large expanse of public land where there is minimal farming operation, has been chosen to reduce problems that the elk may cause when they move out of the transplant area. The MDC has assured that strict health protocols will be followed for the elk coming into Missouri as established by the MDA.
In 2002, the Cervid Health Committee was established by the Missouri Department of Agriculture to work with elk and deer farmers, the Missouri Department of Conservation and other organizations, Hinkebein said, to establish protocols to deal with any health issues that may occur in both the wild deer and domestic elk and deer herds.
In addition, Missouri elk farmers and ranchers started a voluntary health program that has provided valuable research to the MDA and MDC concerning the health of elk. Elk farmers are required to test their animals annually.
“I would like to see the MDC obtain their animals from Missouri elk producers,” Hinkebein said. “Elk farmers and ranchers breed for trophy animals and have been in a health program for many years. This would assure that diseased animals are not brought into the state.”
Domestic elk turned into large expanses of habitat quickly return to their natural instincts for survival and become wild, Hinkebein added.
He does not anticipate animals being purchased from domestic producers, however, due to the costs involved.
Most likely, the elk will be trapped out of state for transplanting to Missouri. “It is important that elk are not brought in from a CWD endemic area,” Hinkebein said.
Combs echoes Hinkebein’s desire that animals be purchased from private elk producers.
“The only test for Chronic Wasting is on the brain of a dead animal,” Combs said. For that reason, it is advocated that elk should be brought in from tame herds that have been in the Chronic Wasting Monitoring program for at least five years.
There are very few areas in the state where elk would be able to coexist with the dense population of Missouri, Hinkebein said. Although, he adds, elk that are placed in a habitat that provides for their nutritional needs will do fine.
Hinkebein adds, “If elk are transplanted to Missouri, a management plan involving hunting will be required to maintain the numbers after a few years. This should offer a unique hunting experience for a few successful residents of Missouri. Laws will need to be written carefully not to interfere with domestic production of elk.”
Some elk owners in Missouri own private elk hunting programs, Combs said, although hunting is not allowed at Beaver Creek Ranch. Combs said those who own private hunting program will likely oppose introduction of elk into the state. He figures many crop farmers will also oppose the infiltration of elk into the state, because they will wander at will, and eventually spread over the state.
The MDC is planning to have several public information meetings in the Peck Ranch area to gather citizen input. If you have concerns and or comments concerning turning elk loose in Missouri please contact the MDC office.
Meeting Tonight In Mtn. Grove
The Ozarks Property Rights Congress will host an informational meeting tonight (Thursday) in Mtn. Grove to hear both pros and cons on the issue of elk restoration.
Clint Dalbom, forestry district supervisor with the Conservation Department, has confirmed that he will address the landowners at the meeting to be held in Mtn. Grove at the Hayloft banquet room.
“Mr. Dalbom will present the MDC proposal and a presentation will also be made outlining objections to the plan by dissenting landowners”, said Russell Wood, president of the OPRC.
“Bringing both sides together for a civil discussion of an issue is the hallmark of the OPRC group and has proven beneficial in promoting understanding of opposing forces in the past,” Wood said.
Stocking elk in the region was proposed 10 years ago but the plan was dropped after strong concerns were raised by the public and legislators over liability, animal health and habitat issues.
The public is invited to the 7 p.m. meeting.