West Virginia's governor created quite a stir last week when he said he'd like to see elk stocked in the state's southwestern counties.
Speaking at a "Sportsmen for Tomblin" campaign rally, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said that since elk have already started migrating into the state from Kentucky, wildlife officials should "take a serious look" into an active reintroduction plan.
Keep in mind that this is an election year, and politicians sometimes try to score votes by saying things they don't mean. But if Tomblin is serious about it, West Virginia could have elk in sufficient numbers to hunt years sooner than they otherwise would have.
Until now, Division of Natural Resources officials have chosen to manage the state's small elk population "passively." What that means is that they will try to protect any animals that wander into the state, but won't engage in an active stocking program.
By the DNR's own estimates, it would take 20 years or more for passive management to create an elk herd dense enough to support hunting.
Kentucky developed a viable elk population in just five years.
Between 1997 and 2002, Kentucky wildlife officials stocked more than 1,500 elk in 16 of the commonwealth's southeastern counties. They thrived. By 2009, Kentucky's elk herd had already reached wildlife officials' 10,000-animal goal.
Curtis Taylor, the DNR's wildlife chief, said several issues would need to be addressed before West Virginia attempted an approach similar to Kentucky's.
"Obviously, we would need to know where the money would come from," Taylor said. "When Kentucky stocked elk, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was a major contributor. I don't think they're currently in a position to fund such a strong elk restoration program in West Virginia."
Kentucky gets part of its elk-program operating costs from non-refundable "license application fees" charged to sportsmen who apply for elk-hunting permits.