As much as West Virginia wildlife officials would like to bring more elk into the state, they might have a difficult time making it happen.
Last fall, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies published a list of best management practices “for the prevention, surveillance and management of chronic wasting disease.” According to the document, wildlife officials consider the movement of live animals as “the greatest risk for CWD introduction into unaffected areas.”
Southwestern West Virginia, which received elk stockings in 2016 and 2018 from Kentucky and Arizona, is considered an unaffected area. According to the document, the very best way to prevent CWD from being introduced into any CWD-free area is to prohibit “all human-assisted live [deer or elk] movements” into the area.
As ominous as that might sound to elk enthusiasts, it’s not exactly written in stone — at least not yet.
Best management practices are guidelines; they don’t carry the same weight as laws or regulations. Even so, agency administrators tend to take them seriously.
West Virginia’s own elk-stocking guidelines mandate that any animals brought into the state must come from CWD-free herds. That limits the number of states from which elk could be obtained.
Kentucky and Arizona were two such states, and officials in both worked diligently with Division of Natural Resources personnel to capture and send elk to the Mountain State.
That was before the best management practices document came out. Now that it has, agency administrators throughout the country might be less willing to ship their animals across state lines.
Or they might still be willing. The association’s list of best management practices describes “no human-assisted transfer” as the best alternative, but the document also includes less-restrictive options.
One is to allow movement or importation from herds that have been monitored “for an extended period without detection of CWD.” Another is to “allow importation … from herds certified as low risk for CWD by the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] CWD Herd Certification Program.”
DNR officials remain hopeful that they’ll be able to secure elk for future stockings, but at the same time they’re not sure how much effect the new best management practices will have on other states’ willingness to ship animals to West Virginia.
The logical source for more elk is southeastern Kentucky, which is home to a CWD-free herd that numbers more than 10,000. Kentucky’s elk-management zone lies adjacent to West Virginia’s, so animals would have to be transported less than 100 miles.
For the past five years, however, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife has been locked into an agreement to ship its surplus elk to Wisconsin. The 41 elk West Virginia received from Kentucky in 2016 and 2018 came not from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, but from the from U.S. Forest Service’s Land Between the Lakes Elk and Bison Prairie.
The final transfer of elk from Kentucky to Wisconsin will take place this spring. Perhaps that will allow officials from the commonwealth to craft a similar agreement with their counterparts in West Virginia.
Could the newly published best management practices get in the way? That will be for administrators in both states to determine.