Patience on elk restoration wearing thin
By Paul Adkins
“I can hear the elk bugling now.” With an eye to the future, a cupped hand held to his ear and a broad smile, Arthur Brunty of the award winning Buffalo Creek Watershed Association stated so just after DNR’s quarterly meeting here Sunday. That was in response to the local political delegation’s at times heated comment directed toward the WVDNR Director’s most recent apparently confounding statements toward fulfilling Governor Early Ray Tomblin’s campaign promise to well you guessed it, actively restore elk right here in the southern Coalfields.
Local Delegate Rupie Phillips clearly took the lead in his comments and later via an in-meeting, I-phone query to the DNR web-page. That is, the preferred DNR elk restoration zone lies within all or parts of the seven Coalfield counties of Logan, Mingo, Wyoming, McDowell, Boone, Lincoln and Wayne. Local Senator Ron Stollings seconded Rupie’s assertions indicating that his cohort, Senator Art Kirkendoll, who could not attend, was also in support of accelerating the southern elk option. Delegate Ted Tomblin then rose to the podium and offered his elk support and assistance in any way.
The latest stumbling blocks to fulfilling the governor’s mandate seem to originate ironically from the agency that you would think would be drooling over the prospects to accommodate Earl Ray, as the governor is locally known. The curveball situation stemmed from several news and other accounts stating that the Director indicated elk would go north, as up Dolly Sods way, if anywhere. Denying these assertions, Director Jezioro stated that he was referring only to a 2002 year feasibility study that evaluated several potential restoration areas. He stated that he made no commitments as such and that he would pursue the north option only if the “southern” strategy failed.
Local DNR Commissioner Ken Wilson questioned why the DNR would even be discussing the northern option at this late venture? That zone has high potential for agricultural conflict, is intimate with the CWD (disease) containment area and it would take forever to do the environmental impact studies akin to getting a coal mine permit at the federal Forest Service level. Good luck with that.
Acknowledging those possibly fatal flaws, the Director indicated his willingness to move on the southern elk strategy if some 40,000 acres could only be locked in. However, no such land commitments had been made prior to the restoration of Canada geese, wood ducks, deer, bear, bald eagles, beaver, fishers, otters, wild turkeys or fresh water mussels for that matter. Nevertheless, the political contingent stated that they are familiar with the land companies and believed they would cooperate.
After all, the land companies made the Hatfield-McCoy Trail possible and they would hopefully rise to the task of kick-starting elk restoration. It begs the question as to why the DNR has never approached them or purchased any lands here since the stated studies of 2002. The frustration of the political contingent becomes ever more apparent.
Lands that harbor the regal elk are immediately more valuable than those that don’t. Perhaps the folks at the Hatfield-McCoy Trail or Arthur Brunty and the gang from the Buffalo Creek Watershed Association should get involved. The sky could be the limit in view of their recent accomplishments. As the sayings go, “ain’t none of us getting’ any younger,” so “let’s just get ‘er done.”
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