Friday, March 1, 2024
Friday, March 1, 2024

Interim Report: Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources

Division of Natural Resources Elk Project Leader Randy Kelly gave an update on the health of the herd and the progress made since reintroduction began in West Virginia in 2015 during an interim meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Kelly noted the state of Virginia started its elk reintroduction in 2013 and has benefited greatly from Kentucky’s elk program. Due to the proximity and terrain, a large number of Kentucky elk have roamed into roamed into Virginia, much more so they they have into West Virginia.

DNR Director Brett McMillion informed lawmakers they are considering importing elk from other locations, but movement of any cervid species has become a complicated process due to the fear of Chronic Wasting Disease and other afflictions.

Kelly told lawmakers West Virginia’s herd was still trying to recover from the impact of a loss of a large number of animals rounded up in Arizona and sent to West Virginia.

“We were under a 120 day holding rule and had to keep them penned up. No matter how much food we gave them or how gently we handled them, they became extremely stressed,” Kelly said.

Crews captured 60 elk in Arizona for transport but Kelly said 14 were lost in the required quarantine period and another 33 percent were lost to a parasite called brain worm.

“When your body is stressed you’re more susceptible to parasites or disease. After they recovered from that, it’s calmed down and we are starting to recover from that loss,” he said.

Kelly noted that the herd is currently very young and there was discussion regarding what level the herd would need to reach before a limited hunt could be allowed. Kelly was reluctant to put any number on the herd which would trigger conversations for a controlled hunt, but he agreed with lawmakers that at minimum, 200 to 250 elk needs to be achieved in West Virginia before consideration.

“We’re still at a really young age structure, even our bulls are young. They’re not consistent breeders until they are three and they only have one calf a year,” Kelly said. “We don’t want to do it too early because you can hinder reproduction, so we want to be cautious.”

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