August 3, 2006
It has been about 150 years since elk wandered throughout Tennessee.
Early records indicated that elk were abundant in the state prior to being
settled by European explores and colonists. As these settlers moved
westward the elk population declined.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA)
decided to reintroduce elk to the state in the late 1990’s. Part of the
Agency’s mission is to restore extirpated wildlife when and where it is
biologically and sociologically feasible. The states of Michigan,
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Kentucky have also restored elk. The
Great Smoky Mountain National Park has
restored elk within the park in North Carolina.
The project received the needed funding and support from the Rocky Mountain
Elk Foundation (RMEF). Their mission is to ensure the future of elk, other
wildlife and their habitat. They have more that 150,000 members and are
based out of Missoula, Montana. Tennessee has seven chapters through out
Several partners have been involved with the project and contributed by
doing the things they do best. The partners include the Rocky Mountain Elk
foundation, Parks Canada, Campbell County Outdoor Recreation Association,
Tennessee Wildlife Federation, University of Tennessee and the U.S. Forest
Service and TWRA. Recently, the Safari Club International (SCI) and the
Chattanooga Chapter of SCI have also assisted with funding.
The goals of the Tennessee elk restoration project are:
- Restore elk to a portion of their native range where compatible with
other land uses and where local public support is demonstrated.
- Develop a self-sustaining elk herd capable of providing hunting and
wildlife viewing opportunities.
- Minimize conflicts between elk and humans.
- Minimize potential for introduction of diseases that are harmful to
livestock and wildlife.
On December 19, 2000, fifty elk where obtained from Elk Island National
Park in Alberta, Canada and released on the
Royal Blue Wildlife Management
Area in Campbell county. Since that time three other releases, (2001, 2002,
2003) have taken place with a total of 167 elk being released. The 2003 elk
were obtained from the U. S. Forest Service Land Between the Lakes in
Kentucky but originally came from Elk Island in Canada. All releases have
taken place in Royal Blue and Sundquist WMA.
TWRA has established an “elk zone” consisting of 670,000 acres located in
the Cumberland Mountains of eastern Tennessee. The zone includes portions
of five counties, Morgan, Scott, Campbell, Anderson and Claiborne. This
zone will be managed to enhance the elk population and elk habitat. The
desired elk population is between 1,400 and 2,000 elk in the zone.
The University of Tennessee (UT), Department of Wildlife, Forestry and
Fisheries have conducted research on the elk and the University of
Tennessee Veterinary Hospital monitors the health of the herd. An Elk
Health Monitoring and Management Advisory Board has been established to
provide expertise to TWRA and the Tennessee state veterinarian on future
acquisitions of elk.
One hundred-sixty elk were originally radio collared to monitor their
movements. Graduate students from UT conducted research on food habits and
the telemetry data is currently being evaluated. This data should be
completed fall 2006. Forty to fifty elk are currently radio collared.
Elk calving has been monitored for the last three summers to see if the elk
were reproducing. A total of 20 calves were found in 2003, with 24 and 37
being found in 2004 and 2005. This is only a fraction of the calves
actually being born.
Habitat improvements are continuing on the WMA’s to provide elk with the
requirements they need to thrive. Food plots, clearings, timber operations
waterholes and the like are being developed. A management plan for the
Cumberland Mountains is being developed.
A wildlife viewing area is established on Hatfield Knob that allows the
public to watch the animals.
Efforts are being taken to census the elk herd to get an estimate of the
total population. These will include ground and aerial based census routes
to be conducted this fall and winter 2006 and beyond.