Elk Network‘Historic Conservation Milestone’ Achieved in Appalachian Elk Country

News Releases | December 19, 2023

(Photo credit: Ben Childers)

MISSOULA, Mont. — Hunters, anglers, hikers and those who enjoy the outdoors now have perpetual access to 54,636 acres of private land in eastern Kentucky thanks to a landscape-scale voluntary conservation agreement by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

“This is an historic conservation milestone for Kentucky’s elk range and incredible expansion of hunter access in the state. The Ataya-Cumberland Forest Wildlife Management Area project marks a significant step in ensuring the future of Appalachian elk herds, other wildlife, their habitat and hunting,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “This achievement would not be possible without our partners at KDFWR, TNC and NFWF.”

KDFWR will not only manage the acreage for wildlife habitat and public recreation but also for sustainable forestry and clean water. The project connects 274,000 acres of land stretching into neighboring Tennessee.

“This project is an historic win for nature and people in Kentucky and represents what our organizations can achieve working together,” said David Phemister, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Kentucky. “The largest conservation easement in Kentucky history, this project will provide access to nature for Kentuckians and visitors in perpetuity. I am proud of this accomplishment and our strong partnership with Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, and NFWF.”

While the Cumberland Forest is home to Kentucky’s elk herd, it also supplies important habitat for birds including ruffed grouse and migratory songbirds as well as numerous at-risk aquatic species found in the many streams that cross the property.

“Acquisition of the Cumberland Forest Wildlife Management Area is a tremendous victory for both wildlife conservation and public access. It demonstrates how we can accomplish so much more working together than we can as individual organizations,” said KDFWR Commissioner Rich Storm. “I want to thank the Kentucky General Assembly and all our partners for their financial and other support to secure this area for current and future generations to enjoy.”

RMEF supplied more than $2.5 million and significant volunteer support to help restore wild, free-ranging elk to their historic Kentucky range beginning in 1997. Today, that population is the largest east of the Mississippi River.

About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:

Founded more than 39 years ago and fueled by hunters, RMEF maintains more than 225,000 members and has conserved more than 8.8 million acres for elk and other wildlife. RMEF also works to open and improve public access, fund and advocate for science-based resource management, and ensure the future of America’s hunting heritage. Discover why “Hunting Is Conservation™” at rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.