December 2016—conservation history in the making.
Biologists from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, U.S. Forest Service and volunteers from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation work as one to successfully dart, test, monitor, attach GPS collars and transport 24 elk from “Land Between the Lakes” in Kentucky across the state-line into West Virginia.
Then, just two days before Christmas, the gates of the spacious holding pen are opened and wild elk depart to freely roam the Mountain State for the first time in more than 140 years.
The collaborative effort is the first in a series of planned releases across seven counties in southern West Virginia with the goal of establishing a viable and self-sustaining elk population.
Their new home –a landscape covering more than 10,700 acres– is the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area. It is permanently protected thanks to a land acquisition partially funded by RMEF. Later phases will expand the collective area to more than 32,000 acres of previously private land to be purchased and conveyed to the state for permanent ownership and to be opened in the future for public hunting access.
West Virginia joins Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada as successful RMEF-involved elk reintroduction sites and stands as the 28th state with wild, free-ranging elk.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin Welcomes Elk to West Virginia
To return elk to their native range land, it takes vision. It takes action. And it takes leadership. Ray Tomblin and the state of West Virginia provided all of the above.
This project didn’t just happen overnight. It’s not one of those things that a couple of people sat around and said, ‘Hey, let’s bring in some elk in here.’ It’s taken several years and all kinds of people to put this together.Earl Ray Tomblin - West Virginia Governor
Tomblin issued elk restoration marching orders to his Division of Natural Resources director Robert Fala—an RMEF volunteer– and asked that it be done before the expiration of his term in January of 2017.
Fala and his staff –coupled with the support of DNR Commissioner Kenny Wilson, also an RMEF volunteer – worked the halls of the state legislature, reached out to the U.S. Forest Service, acquired permission to obtain elk from Kentucky and established a seven-county elk restoration zone in the Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia.
For returning an iconic and native species to the state of West Virginia for its citizens as well as RMEF members and volunteers, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation recognizes and honors Ray Tomblin as its Conservationist of the Year.