Elk were reintroduced into eastern Kentucky in 1997. In just 15 years, the state's herd has grown to more than 10,000, all confined into roughly a 15-county area.
The animals' presence has been a boon to tourism, and carefully managed elk hunts have attracted sportsmen from throughout the country. In at least a few areas, though, the 500- to 700-pound creatures have become overpopulated.
Stoney Fork is sort of the poster child for elk problems. Residents grew so upset that state wildlife officials began issuing depredation permits, much the same as West Virginia issues deer-damage permits.
People are particularly worried about elk-vehicle collisions. Hitting a 110-pound deer with a car can cause thousands of dollars' worth of vehicle damage. Hitting a 600-pound elk can total a car in no time.
According to an Associated Press report, more than 100 Kentucky elk have been killed in deer-vehicle collisions since 2005. Pickup trucks have been flipped upside-down from the impacts. The AP report contained an account of a bull elk crashing through the windshield of a Geo Metro.
There is no doubt that a thriving elk herd in West Virginia would help the state's coalfield counties to attract more tourists and hunters.
There is also no doubt that if elk become abundant enough, problems similar to those in Stoney Fork would eventually arise. A magnificent 7-by-7 bull elk in the wild is a stirring sight; the same critter frozen in the headlights of your car is downright terrifying.
DNR officials want to allow the state's elk herd to build naturally, with animals that migrate across the border from Kentucky and Virginia. Would-be elk hunters want a stocking program.
Whatever happens, the ultimate result will likely be a combination of good and bad. But isn't that the way it goes with just about everything?
Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or johnmc...@wvgazette.com.