West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced that the state’s Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) plans to introduce 40 new elk. The introduction will raise the state’s elk population to 150, which was at 22 when Gov. Justice took office in 2017, a year after elk restoration began in the Mountain State. The plan also includes building a new elk visitor center and viewing tower in Logan County, thanks to a $2.5 million award from Gov. Justice’s office, courtesy of the Abandoned Mine Lands grant.
“The growth of our elk herd and the success of our management program is a testament to the hard work of our wildlife biologists and this administration’s commitment to protecting and preserving our natural resources,” WVDNR Director Brett McMillion said in a statement.
Before excessive hunting and logging wiped them out in the late 1800s, elk roamed much of the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions. Talk of reintroduction efforts lingered in West Virginia for most of the late 1900s until Kentucky successfully established 1,541 elk between 1997 and 2002. Once West Virginia began habitat studies in 2005, biologists found that the state’s southwestern coalfield areas provided an ideal habitat for elk with big open fields, tree coverage, and little to no agriculture.
“Since our reintroduction efforts began several years ago, these majestic creatures have returned to grace our state, enriching our ecosystem and offering unparalleled outdoor experiences,” Gov. Jim Justice stated in a press release.
Last week, 17 of the 40 elk were successfully transported to the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County. The elk are being evaluated and held for a short period before being released into the wild. In the coming weeks, WVDNR will be working to transport more elk along with reviewing bids for construction of the elk viewer tower and visitor center.
Elk restoration efforts are also taking place in other parts of Appalachia, where abandoned mine lands are being turned back into a natural habitat for these native animals. Read about elk restoration efforts in Virginia here.
Cover photo: courtesy of West Virginia Tourism and WVDNR.