Missouri’s Elk Program Shines
By Dave Pace, Missouri State Chair
Missouri’s elk herd gained several new members on May 19, 2012, when—under the watchful eyes of RMEF Missouri regional director Mark Nash, Habitat Partner Ed Carmack and Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) staff—20 cows, 14 young bulls and yearlings and one newborn calf trundled off an 18-wheeler from Kentucky. These newcomers were held in a holding pen for a month, then released into the wild in two groups. The first group was released near the existing herd, and the second was released into another region of the state’s “elk zone.” Every elk is equipped with a GPS tracking collar paid for by RMEF.
The MDC, with RMEF’s help, first reintroduced elk into Missouri in 2011. Combining this year’s release with the existing elk and calf crop, the herd is now estimated to be close to 100 head. The MDC will likely try to transfer another 50 elk in 2013. Kentucky has very generously provided the relocated elk so far.
The 346-square-mile elk zone is located in the Ozark Mountains and encompasses some of Missouri’s most wild and beautiful country. The 25,000-acre state-owned and publically-accessible Peck Ranch is the hub of the zone and is a model of habitat for elk and other wildlife. The very popular Ozark National Scenic Riverways also comprises parts of the zone, as well as other public lands.
The elk have proven to be good citizens, with 99 percent staying in the elk zone, and 94 percent staying very close to their original release sites at the Peck Ranch. The MDC has made a very conscious effort to provide plentiful forage and water and apparently, the elk have no reason to roam.
Many local ranchers enjoy having elk in the area and have planted food plots and grasses, hoping to attract elk to their property. The elk are proving to be a popular attraction and a boon for many area businesses. Many people travel to the elk zone from around the state to see the animals and, come fall, hopefully hear an occasional bull bugle.
RMEF has kicked in major funding assistance for the elk project, but Missouri’s volunteers have played a huge role as well. Many have helped build holding pens, perform area maintenance and conduct calf counts. And, they’ve founded two new chapters in the state—the Missouri Elk Capital Chapter in the tiny tourist town of Eminence (population 600) and the South Central Missouri Chapter in West Plains. The Missouri Elk Capital Chapter did itself proud its first year, earning an Outstanding Chapter Award for coming in 3rd place for total chapter activity for a new chapter.
Fall is a great time to be outdoors in Missouri's elk country. Please stop by if you're in the neighborhood!