LOGAN, W.Va. — Fifty elk transported from Arizona now officially call West Virginia “home.” Gov. Jim Justice and Division of Natural Resources Director Stephen McDaniel welcomed the animals to the Mountain State on May 15 during a public ceremony in Logan County.
“The restoration of this magnificent animal to West Virginia represents a major wildlife conservation effort for our state,” said Gov. Justice. “West Virginia’s sportsmen and women can be very proud that their hunting license revenue and excise taxes, paid through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, have provided most of the funding for this project.”
The free-ranging elk were captured in late January and held near Flagstaff, Arizona, for disease testing, before being transported in early March to a holding pen near Holden, West Virginia. They will be held another few weeks to comply with federal disease testing guidelines and to allow them to acclimate to their new environment. The Arizona elk will join 35 other elk previously acquired from Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in western Kentucky.
When the Arizona herd is ready, DNR will conduct a “soft” release. The pen gates will be quietly opened, and the elk will be allowed to leave at their own pace. This method is safer and less stressful for the animals.
“The return of elk to West Virginia represents a major milestone in the state’s conservation legacy,” said DNR Director McDaniel. “This effort would not have been possible without the financial and logistical support of many partner conservation organizations. We especially thank the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, The Conservation Fund, National Wild Turkey Federation, West Virginia Bowhunters Association, West Virginia Trophy Hunters Association, and Knobloch Family Foundation.”
The Arizona herd consists of 10 males and 40 females, all adults. Some of the elk tested positive for pregnancy before leaving Arizona, which may result in the delivery of as many as 20 calves later this year, according to DNR wildlife biologists.
The herd will be monitored by Global Positioning System (GPS) radio transmitters attached to each elk. All GPS transmitters were purchased and donated by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Elk were once native and common in West Virginia but are believed to have been extirpated from the state more than 140 years ago. Legislation enacted in 2015 authorized DNR to begin an active elk restoration plan. With the acquisitions of elk from Arizona and Kentucky, and with generous donations from interested partners and the work of countless volunteers, the project is now fully underway. Read more about the WVDNR’s Elk Management Plan at www.wvdnr.gov/Publications/Draft_Elk_Plan.pdf.