Saturday, December 02, 2006

West Virginia Elk Seen!

Source of W.Va. elk herd a mystery
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - At least one small herd of elk has been spotted in West Virginia's Logan and Boone counties, and wildlife officials are wondering how the animals got there.

"What makes us suspicious is that these elk suddenly seemed to appear all at once in a specific area," said Tom Dotson, district wildlife biologist for the state Division of Natural Resources. "We don't think they just wandered over the border from Kentucky."

The DNR has been getting reports of up to six elk together. Officials believe there to be as many as 11 elk in the area.

The first sighting occurred near Boone County's Wharton Grade School, where a young bull elk was seen trying to cross a nearby highway in mid-October. Since bowhunting seasons for deer and black bear began, more elk sightings have been reported.

Once abundant in the Eastern United States, elk disappeared as people proliferated throughout the region. Some states have reintroduced the large, antlered animals into the wild. In Kentucky, an estimated 5,700 elk have been put into a 16-county area along the West Virginia state line.

"We've had sightings of elk in Mingo and Wayne counties along the border, but up to now we've never had reports of any elk herds," Dotson said.

One of the latest sightings was by a clerk at Chief Logan State Park who spotted a lone bull elk standing near some railroad tracks while she was driving.

"I knew immediately that it was an elk," said Melissa Brown, who took pictures of the animal. "It was way too big to be a deer."

Dotson said the DNR is investigating reports of a truck pulling an elk-filled trailer into the Bald Knob area around the same time the sightings began.

"There are reports that a coal company might have had them brought in to improve the environment. There's also speculation that a hunting club might be behind the stocking. Whoever did it, if anyone did, they had to have had money, because elk aren't cheap," Dotson said.

In the past, sporting clubs had lobbied wildlife officials for a state-sanctioned elk-stocking program, but concerns about chronic wasting disease put the DNR's elk project on hold.