Up until the late 1800’s, Elk roamed freely across the open prairies and throughout the woodlands of Missouri along with buffalo, deer and wild turkey. They disappeared from the state because of habitat loss and unregulated harvest. But thanks largely to the efforts of the Missouri Elk Restoration Program, beginning in 2010, potential sustainable populations of wild elk began to be restored in the state. For the first time since the Civil War, wild elk have once again begun to roam freely in the Missouri Ozark Mountains, and the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers have once again become home to these beautiful animals.
Wild elk represent a symbol of wilderness, open space and freedom."We're going to start hunting them as quickly as we can," says Lonnie Hansen, MDC resource scientist, noting that a hunt will be the only method used to keep the elk population in the desired 400-500 range. "There's a tremendous interest in hunting. The most common question I get asked is, 'When can we hunt them?'" he says. "We have half a million deer hunters in the state, and I can just about guarantee you that every one of them would like to be able to hunt an elk." He also notes that part of the Ozark Trail cuts through the restoration zone. "What we'd like to see is, have a situation where the elk are very visible from a distance, so people can drive up to a lookout point and watch the elk..."
"When folks get to see a bull elk bugling in the fall or a cow elk after they calve in the spring...it's an amazing thing to see." Joe Jerek, Missouri Department of Conservation
Key points to remember about elk restoration in Missouri are:
- Elk is a native species to Missouri, and restoring native species holds many benefits.
- Elk restoration will be limited to a targeted restoration zone in southeast Missouri.
- Elk restoration will include herd-management guidelines, with hunting as the primary tool to maintain an appropriate population.
- Elk restoration will include health protocols, such as disease testing, to ensure the health of domestic livestock and other wildlife.
- Elk restoration will include plans for dealing with elk that wander where they are not welcome.
- Elk restoration in other states has provided resource and economic benefits.
For more information on elk restoration in Missouri, visit www.missouriconservation.org and search “elk restoration.”