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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Elk could be reintroduced to Maryland

A study will soon begin to see if Rocky Mountain elk will be reintroduced into Western Maryland, where they have not roamed since the 1700s.

The Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Foundation, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have joined forces to investigate the situation.

“The elk foundation has given a grant of $125,000 to the legislative sportsmen’s foundation to look into the possibility,” said Paul Peditto, director of the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service. “We will provide technical expertise.”

Peditto said the announcement appears to be big news, but much will have to happen before talk takes place about where the elk would go and how many of the animals would be brought into the state.

Of primary concern, according to Peditto, is whether or not the residents of Allegany and Garrett counties want elk.

“I suspect there will be a formal professional survey along with face-to-face meetings to make that determination,” he said.

The biological, social and economic feasibility assessments will require at least 12 months to complete before decisions are made, according to a press release from the three partners.

DNR Secretary John Griffin said “Consensus from our experts and all impacted stakeholders will be a prerequisite to this decision.”

There will be an outreach to the farming community to ascertain their thoughts about an elk reintroduction.

Mike Griffith, longtime officer with the Allegany-Garrett Sportsmen’s Association, said Monday that he is enthusiastic about the possibility of having elk in Maryland.

“That’s pretty sweet,” Griffith said. “I mean they have elk in Pennsylvania and Kentucky now. I’d love to see it happen in my lifetime.”

Both Pennsylvania and Kentucky have highly regulated hunting seasons for the animals. Bulls can weigh 700 pounds and stand five feet at the shoulder. Cows tip the scales up to 500 pounds.

Peditto said neighboring states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia will be kept in the loop during the study.

“Our state is narrow and elk are mobile,” he said.

Place names reflect the fact that elk formerly inhabited the area. Just across the North Branch of the Potomac River from Kitzmiller is Elk Garden, W.Va. In southern Somerset County, Pa., touching the Maryland border, is Elk Lick Township.

Most relocations of elk into the East are reclaimed strip mines, according to Peditto.

Elk can contract chronic wasting disease. Maryland’s first case of the disease was in a deer from eastern
Allegany County tested in late 2010.

Peditto said there is no test to determine if a deer or elk has chronic wasting disease.

“If a reintroduction be-comes a reality, we will rely on the best available science in that regard,” he said.

Maryland-based chapters of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have raised significant amounts of money, but it has usually gone to projects in the western United States, Peditto said. “Those chapters have become interested in seeing us take a look at Maryland’s ability to house elk.”
“Far Western Maryland offers ideal habitat for elk...” said David Allen, president and CEO of the Montana-based elk foundation. “That is why this partnership, the first step for gauging support in Maryland, is so important.”

By: Michael A. Sawyers

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