After more than a 100-year absence from the Mountain State, elk are making a comeback in West Virginia. Now that elk have made a comeback in West Virginia, folks even have the opportunity to see these incredible animals up close in a natural habitat thanks to the Elk Management Tours through the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
History of Elk in West Virginia
After disappearing from the mountains and hills of West Virginia in the late 1800s due to subsistence hunting, timbering and market hunting, The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and other eastern state agencies often considered and studied reintroducing elk off and on for most of the late 1900s, serious efforts were never undertaken until Kentucky’s reintroduction success in the late 1990s.
West Virginia’s interest began with habitat and social acceptance feasibility studies in 2005. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources identified possible sites to sustain an elk population in various regions of the state, but the only area that was identified for social acceptance was the southwestern coalfield area where large scale mining activity had generated suitable elk habitat and little to no agriculture existed. This potential Elk Management Zone consisted of Logan, Mingo, McDowell, Wyoming, southern Lincoln, southern Wayne, and western Boone counties. A passive plan was put in place to protect any elk which may have wandered in from Kentucky.
Local support and interest from then Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office led to legislation in 2015 by the West Virginia Legislature, which authorized the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to proceed with an active elk restoration plan. This legislation established the Elk Management Zone from the existing passive plan as the West Virginia Elk Management Area to which elk management activities would be limited. To facilitate an elk release, efforts were also made to add more public land access in the region. This resulted in over 44,000 acres being permanently secured for public access and ultimately the creation of the 25,000-acre Tomblin Wildlife Management Area, which would serve as the first elk release site.
In late December 2016, with the release of 24 elk secured from the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area (LBL) in western Kentucky, wild elk were roaming the mountains of West Virginia for the first time in over 140 years. Subsequent releases were made from LBL and Arizona in 2018. Calving over the past four summers has produced around 45 known calves. This has stabilized the population with approximately 75-80 currently roaming the area. All released individuals were marked and equipped with GPS telemetry collars so movements could be tracked. In addition to this, efforts continue each winter to capture, mark, and collar calves and other un-collared individuals so that data can be collected. Efforts also continue to identify a source herd from which additional elk can be transferred to West Virginia to supplement the herd, but no new relocations are set at this time.
Book An Elk Tour
Each fall, Elk Management Tours are offered at the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area. Tours start at Chief Logan Lodge at Chief Logan State Park and give folks the opportunity to see these incredible animals up close in a natural habitat.