Bluegrass bugles: Thriving herd back on historic homeland

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

Barbourville, Ky. – The recent return of elk to the hills and mountains of eastern Kentucky has been called the most successful species reintroduction and restoration project of all time and there’s certainly merit to the claim.
Begun in the mid-1990s, the project has been led by the combined efforts of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Shikar Safari Club and Kentucky wildlife agencies.
In December of 1997, seven elk that had been captured in western Kansas were released at the Cyprus Amax Wildlife Management Area in eastern Kentucky and reintroduction was under way.
By 2002, 1,500 elk that had been captured in a number of western states had been released at a total of eight sites in a 16-county elk zone.
born free
By the summer of 2000, Kentucky had the largest free ranging wild elk herd east of Montana.
The original Kentucky elk population goal of 7,400 was reached in 2008, 11 years ahead of schedule and, today, the herd is maintained at around 11,000 through hunting. Elk traveling outside of the 16-county zone can be harvested by anyone with a hunting license and an over-the-counter permit, and tags issued for hunting elk inside the reestablishment zone have been steadily increasing in number. Called quota tags, 900 of these were issued through a random draw open to Kentucky residents and nonresidents alike for the 2012 season.
Additionally, Kentucky landowners who’ve donated significant acreage to the state’s WMA program receive transferable tags for hunting inside the zone they may use, donate or sell, and there are other special tags typically made available for auction through wildlife conservation fundraising efforts each year.
As a byproduct of the hunting opportunity which, itself, provides thousands of pounds of meat every year, local economies have received significant outside revenue.
good for all
Data compiled in 2006 projects that a peak license availability of 1,500 tags per year would result in an annual income of $1.7 million for the region.
To learn more about entering the lottery for quota tags, visit the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources website at, or google “Kentucky elk draw.” A similar search can help find landowner tags for sale as well.

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