Elk reintroduction in Western Maryland to be studied

Two organizations that promote big-game hunting have joined with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to study the viability of reintroducing elk to the western part of the state after more than a 200-year absence.

The feasibility studies conducted by the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen's Foundation and the Department of Natural Resources in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will take about a year. The studies will look into the biological, social and economic impact elk might have in the western part of the state.

David Allen, president of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said in an interview with the Sun that the studies will cost about $250,000, with about half coming from his organization. Allen said his organization recently spent around $300,000 to $400,000 to reintroduce elk in Missouri.

Paul Peditto, the DNR's Wildlife and Heritage service director, said similar reintroductions have taken place in parts of Pennsylvania and Kentucky. But Peditto said that "when you look at western Maryland, it's a very small ledge compared to Kentucky. We don't have as much dirt to work with."

Peditto said it was "no surprise" that the impetus for reintroducing elk comes from members of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation who live in Maryland and "have an interest in seeing elk closer to Maryland, if not in Maryland." Allen said his organization currently has nearly 1,300 members from Maryland.

"When you look at the amount of tourism and revenue that the elk restoration in Kentucky has produced — they're in the top 10 of elk states [for hunting] in the U.S.," Allen said. "It's been a huge success. It has reclaimed coal mining grounds. It's a win-win for conservation, as well as wildlife, the economy, more jobs. It's not about creating a zoo."

Opposition to such a move is expected, Peditto said. Shawn Bender, president of the Garrett County chapter of the Farm Bureau, said that as a hunter he thinks the idea of having elk in the area is "novel," but as a farm owner and volunteer emergency medical technician, it's frightening.

"We have a lot of concerns with the interaction with other animals as well as with them eating the crops," said Bender, who raises goats as well as helping his father on a large dairy farm in Accident. "It's hard enough to make a living as a farmer these days."

As much damage as deer do when they run into or are run into by vehicles, elk are bigger, Bender said, "and it can be devastating."

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