Back in 2000, I was at the Outdoor Writers Association meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina as part of my work. It was the only one of these meetings I have ever attended, but while I was there I had the good fortune of being introduced to Robert Munson who was then head of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
I mentioned that I was a big fan of the RMEF's work since they had just introduced elk into the part of Kentucky where my father is originally from.
While eating good jerky made from caribou, elk, reindeer and musk ox, Munson told me the story of the day elk came back to Kentucky.
It seems the weather was miserable that morning, with a slight rain, a cold win, and overcast skies. Governor Patton made a speech, and then there were one or two other speakers, and then the gate was suppsoed to be dropped to release the Elk out of the truck and into Kentucky. At the exact moment the elk were to be released, the clouds parted, and a powerful ray of sunshine broke through the glooom and landed right on the door as the elk bounded out. "It was awesome," said Munson, "just like a church. A religious experience." I wished I had been there to see it.
Now, just 10 years later, The Appalachia News-Express ("The conscience of Eastern Kentucky") reports more Good News:
After disappearing for nearly 150 years, the elk population in Kentucky is booming, with a current population of about 6,500 animals making up the largest elk herd east of the Mississippi River.
Restoration of Kentucky's elk population began in December 1997, when seven of the animals, captured from Western Kansas, were released at the Cyprus Amax Wildlife Management Area in Eastern Kentucky, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's Web site reports.
Over the next few years, Kentucky's Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources estimates more than 1,500 elk, from states as far away as Kansas, Utah, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon and Arizona, were released into a 16-county restoration zone.
Counties in the elk restoration zone are Bell, Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, McCreary, Perry, Pike and Whitley counties.
Bottom Line: One more animal has been returned to its historical range thanks to hunter-conservationists, and 300 elk tags are going to be issued in Kentucky this year.