The NC Wildlife Resource Commission has proposed removing the Smoky Mountain Elk from the state’s list of “species of special concern.” The designation currently gives the elk extra protection from hunters if they roam beyond the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the organization that provided the elk for reintroduction to the park, does not support removing the designation because it could potentially lead to the legalization of elk hunting outside of the park boundaries. Roughly three dozen of the 150 elk already spend much of their time outside of the park on private land.

“We’re sensitive to the rights of private landowners, but we don’t want to see open season on elk in North Carolina,” says Chris Croy, regional director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

At press time, the NC Wildlife Commission was waiting to evaluate all public input before making a decision, but the proposal was met with overwhelming opposition at the public meetings held in Western North Carolina during January.

“These elk are on billboards. They’re important to the economies surrounding the park.”