Hoping to create tourist draw, Missouri will get elk herd
Missouri joins Pennsylvania and Kentucky in offering elk viewing centers in an effort to ramp up tourism.
Fri, Feb 18 2011 at 5:20 PM
KANSAS CITY, Missouri - Get close enough and it would be hard to miss what Missouri hopes will be its next tourist draw.
Elk, in all their towering antlered glory, are returning to the state for the first time since the 1880s.
Missouri is the latest in a series of tourism-hungry states to play on a public awe of elk, which can reach 700 pounds and are known for a loud and distinctive "bugling" call in the autumn mating season.
Forty-six elk, all of them calves, yearlings or adult females, are being quarantined in Kentucky for three months of monitoring before they will go to the wilds of southeast Missouri. The state hopes to bring in another 100 in the next year or so.
"This is really kind of a big thing for states that have introduced them," said Lonnie Hansen, resource scientist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. "They are quite majestic and in fall breeding season it's impressive to see bulls out bugling."
Other states have made the most their elk.
In Pennsylvania last October, then governor Ed Rendell cut the ribbon on a $12 million elk-viewing center expected to draw 160,000 visitors annually. Kentucky has an Elk View Scenic Byway. Some communities declare themselves "elk capitals" of their states. Next month, Reno, Nevada, will host the annual World Elk Calling Championship.
Elk once thrived across the United States, but disappeared in all but western states because of hunting and loss of habitat, according to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. But herds have been restored in Arkansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and elsewhere in addition to Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
The elk in Missouri will each be equipped with GPS collars so their movements or deaths can be monitored. Conservation officials hope the herd stays in roughly a 346-square mile area of few roads or farms, on wooded, mostly public land, with some open areas where they can be viewed.
Not everyone is wild about the elk. Some landowners say elk encroach on livestock pastures and crop land, damage fences and possibly spread disease. Hansen said all those concerns have been considered and he does not foresee problems.
But legislation pending before the Missouri legislature would make the conservation department liable for any elk-caused damage to private property, said Leslie Holloway, government affairs director of the Missouri Farm Bureau.
Hansen said the population of the elk will be managed through hunting, though probably not for about five years.
(Writing by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Pakistan)
Copyright 2011 Reuters US Online Report Domestic News