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Elk restocking in Tennessee

Tennessee has already begun their efforts  to bring back elk herds to the state of Tennessee. Here's some information on this worthwhile venture.

1. How long has it been since elk roamed wild in the state of Tennessee?
The last historical record of an elk being reported in Tennessee was in 1865 when one was reported to be killed in Obion County.

2. What was the cause of the demise of the elk population in Tennessee?
There is no one specific reason that accounts for the demise of elk in Tennessee. Reasons for the extinction of elk in Tennessee and elsewhere in the eastern U.S. are over-exploitation by man, private ownership of land and habitat destruction. 

3. Where will the elk come from that are to be released in Tennessee?
The subspecies of elk that once roamed in Tennessee (Cervus elaphus canadensis) are extinct but a closely related subspecies of elk (Cervus elaphus manitobensis) are being released into Tennessee. The initial elk released in Tennessee are from Elk Island National Park in Alberta, Canada. This elk herd is closely monitored for potential health problems and is considered one of the best sources of wild disease free elk. Tennessee will also consider obtaining elk from Utah and other western states that have not had disease problems in wild elk. Another source for elk may also be from the Elk and Bison Enclosure at Land Between the Lakes.

 4. How many elk will be reintroduced into Tennessee?
Current plans call for 50 elk to be released into Tennessee for the first year and for 400 to be released over the next four years.

 5. What will be the sex and age composition of elk released into Tennessee?
For each release approximately 75% of the elk will be cows and 25% will be bulls. For the safety of the animals the bulls will have their antlers removed prior to transporting them to Tennessee and mature bulls will be transported apart from the rest of the animals. A portion of the elk released will be calves which will be transported with their mothers. It is also hoped that some of the mature cows will also be pregnant which will ultimately augment the number of animals released and cause the Tennessee population to grow faster.

6. How large an area is the Tennessee elk restoration zone?
The elk restoration project calls for elk to be released in a 670,000 acre restoration zone located in Scott, Morgan, Campbell, Anderson and Claiborne counties, with the center of the zone being the Royal Blue Wildlife Management Area. Elk that wander outside of the restoration zone will be captured and moved back into the restoration zone if possible or may be destroyed if capture is not possible.

7. Why remove elk that wander out of the restoration zone?
Elk have the potential to cause crop and property damage if they occur in areas that have large amounts of row crops and/or have large numbers of people. The restoration zone was selected because it contains few farm crops and few people and has habitat that is suitable for supporting an elk herd. Areas outside of the zone may be incompatible to both people and elk so it is imperative that elk remain in the restoration zone.

8. How far will elk travel?
It is difficult to say how far elk will travel as their movement patterns are largely determined by habitat. In western areas elk are very mobile mostly in response to availability of suitable habitat which may be influenced by weather conditions. In the eastern states that have elk, elk movements have been a lot less than that seen in western states. Michigan, for example, has an elk herd of 1300-1500 elk that are maintained on 512,000 acres. It is expected that the elk herd in Tennessee will approach this size and that the 670,000 acres of the restoration zone should contain suitable habitat to maintain this herd. It is also expected, as has occurred in most eastern elk releases, that a few animals will wander off of the restoration area.

9. What will be done if some elk do cause damage in the restoration zone?
TWRA has hired a full time elk biologist whose duties will be primarily to increase the amount of habitat suitable for elk which will help reduce conflicts with landowner interests. In addition to this duty, the biologist will be responsible for providing assistance to landowners to lessen any damage that elk may be causing to their property. Measures such as fencing and physical harassment will be tried first to solve damage problems but if these techniques fail then the elk will be moved elsewhere if possible. If it is not possible to move the elk and damage continues then they may have to be destroyed.

10. Will elk be considered for release in other areas of the state?
The present elk restoration zone was chosen since it contains a large amount of public land that has few agricultural crops and is composed of suitable habitat for elk. Also, the area has a great deal of public support for elk and had volunteer groups such as Campbell Outdoor Recreation Association, Tennessee Conservation League, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that provided support for the restoration project. At some future time (and after evaluation of this initial restoration effort), the agency may evaluate the feasibility of restoration in other areas. However, no specific plans exist at this time to restore elk in other areas.

11. How big of a population will be established in the elk release zone?
It is hoped that the population of elk will expand from the 400 elk scheduled to be released to a population of 1400 to 2000.  This population level should be obtainable within 16 years.

12. Will elk ever again be hunted in Tennessee?
For the immediate future, there will be no hunting. However, hunters and non-hunters alike will be able to enjoy viewing the elk and listening to them in the fall.

As the elk population grows in the restoration zone legal hunting of elk will be a management option. It is speculated that when the elk population exceeds 1000 animals that a hunting program can be implemented. When a hunting program is implemented it is likely that the demand for elk hunting opportunities will greatly exceed that needed to maintain a stable elk population. Most likely hunters will have to submit applications to be selected for an elk hunt and the demand for these hunts may be so high that a hunter is likely to only be drawn once in a lifetime, if at all.

13. Who is paying for reintroducing elk into Tennessee?
The budget for the elk reintroduction project is roughly $300,000 per year with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) providing approximately 50 % of the funding. TWRA, the University of Tennessee and other groups will provide the remainder.

14. Where can people see these newly released elk in Tennessee?
All elk released will be ear tagged and fitted with radio collars so that their movements can be tracked. Once the movements of the elk are patterned plans are to establish viewing areas for the public. The public can assist in helping TWRA establish these areas by reporting sightings of elk.

15. Will elk bring diseases to other Tennessee wildlife or to domestic livestock and pets?
All elk brought into Tennessee for release will go through strict disease testing prior to release. This testing will be more thorough than that required for bringing captive elk into Tennessee. Also, the elk brought into Tennessee will come from areas where health surveillance has been ongoing for several years with no history of significant disease. All of these precautions will greatly minimize the risk of any diseases being introduced into the state.

16. What other eastern states have resident wild elk herds?
Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Kentucky have resident elk and several other eastern states are looking into the possibility of also reintroducing elk.

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