This Week’s Creature Feature ... Will Elk Return to Maryland?
Elk could once again roam the forests of western Maryland — unless citizens say no way in a survey beginning next month.
Elk are big. Females reach 500 pounds; males, which grow the towering antlers, get up to 700 pounds. They’re herbivores, but it takes a large range to feed the appetites of creatures so big. Thus farmers worry about their crops.
The giant deer cousins were here before us. But no more. Eastern elk are now extinct. They were pushed and hunted out before the colonies became states. We ate up the land and the species. Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, for example, ate some 375 elk in their travels up the Missouri River to Oregon and back.
Hunting for sport and meat is the main economic advantage the restoration could bring to Maryland, though herds of elk also has tourism appeal.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources is working with two partners in exploring whether elk are good for the state. One, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, works to reintroduce elk across the country. Herds recruited from Yellowstone National Park have been established in Pennsylvania and are planned for Arkansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ontario, Kentucky, Tennessee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“There is no higher calling in conservation than restoring an extirpated game species to healthy, hunt-able populations,” said Foundation head David Allen.
The other partner, the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Foundation, has hired consultants to survey public opinion on the question of returning elk to the State.
Will we see Maryland elk? We should know in April.