Elk Restoration Plan FAQs

Bull Elk in Tall Grass

Elk Restoration in Missouri

Why restore elk to Missouri?

In 2010, we began restoring elk to a limited area covering parts of three southeast Missouri counties for several reasons:

  1. Elk are native to Missouri and restoring and managing native species is part of our mandate. We are nationally respected for our expertise in wildlife management and for our successes in native-species restoration, such as deer and turkey. (Unlike the statewide success of deer and wild turkey restoration, our elk restoration will be limited to a designated restoration zone in southeast Missouri.)
  2. Missourians and conservation groups have expressed ongoing interest in elk restoration in Missouri;
  3. Restoring elk will benefit local communities in southeast Missouri and also the state through hunting and tourism; and
  4. Elk restoration in this limited area covering parts of Carter, Reynolds and Shannon counties is compatible with both human activities and other wildlife. This “restoration zone” consists mostly of public land, has suitable habitat, limited roads and limited agricultural activity.

Where will elk restoration take place?

Based on our 2000 Elk Reintroduction Feasibility Study, the Department identified a defined geography around Peck Ranch Conservation Area in southeast Missouri as a potential restoration zone. This elk restoration zone covers parts of Carter, Shannon and Reynolds counties. This wild area in southeast Missouri is mostly public land, has suitable habitat, limited roads and limited agricultural activity.

Most of the land in the restoration zone (79 percent) is held in public trust or privately owned and open to the public. Forty-nine (49) percent of the land in the restoration zone in southeast Missouri is public land. Another 27 percent consists of Pioneer Forest land owned by the L-A-D Foundation, which supports our elk restoration efforts. The Nature Conservancy owns three (3) percent, and supports the restoration.

We carefully manage the elk to keep them healthy, keep them where they are wanted and remove them from where they are not wanted.

Other states have larger elk numbers than we have and their herds cover larger areas than ours. For example, Kentucky has about 10,000 elk over thousands of square miles and Michigan has about 1,300 elk covering 800 square miles.

How have citizens in other states benefited from elk reintroduction?

States that have restored elk, such as Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Arkansas, learned that elk quickly became a key tourist attraction. Typically, elk-viewing areas are established and thousands of visitors generate considerable revenue for local economies. Establishing an elk herd in a small, defined geography in southeast Missouri would likely result in considerable public interest and a subsequent boost to tourism and hunting.

What do Missourians think about restoring elk?

Successful management of Missouri’s natural resources involves partnerships with citizens, organizations and agencies.

As part of the 2000 study, the Department conducted surveys and held public meetings to determine public opinion regarding a possible elk reintroduction. The public input received indicated that Missourians favored an experimental elk restoration program in remote areas south of the Missouri River. However, some expressed concerns about the potential for elk-vehicle accidents, disease and property damage. We addressed those concerns.

We held public open-house forums in the communities of Van Buren, Ellington and Eminence around the restoration zone in southeast Missouri. The majority of comments we received at these public forums were in favor of elk restoration in southeast Missouri.

Many private landowners in the region around the restoration zone in southeast Missouri also support elk restoration. The Conservation Federation of Missouri, which has more than 90,000 members, supports our elk restoration efforts. The L-A-D Foundation, which owns 27 percent of the land in the restoration zone in southeast Missouri, supports our elk restoration efforts. The Nature Conservancy, which owns about three percent of the land in the restoration zone, also supports our elk restoration efforts.

We have also been asking for public comments through the Missouri Conservationist, our website, articles in newspapers, information on radio and television news and efforts by MDC staff throughout the state.

Who will pay for an elk restoration?

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other partners have provided financial support for Missouri elk restoration.

Could reintroduced elk transmit diseases to domestic livestock and native wildlife?

Livestock and wildlife health is critically important to us. We are working very closely with the Missouri Department of Agriculture and State Veterinarian on stringent animal-health protocols to prevent the importation of diseased elk. Our disease protocols for elk restoration are more stringent than any existing disease protocols for livestock or privately imported elk and deer.

We are also working with other states that have successfully restored elk and have used what they have learned to develop our elk restoration plan that is based on research and sound science by wildlife experts.

According the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, no elk reintroduction program in which the RMEF has participated has resulted in spreading disease. We will be working with the RMEF on our elk restoration to southeast Missouri.

As is the case with all wild and domestic animals, elk can serve as hosts for a variety of diseases and parasites. The potential for disease has been minimized in other states where elk restoration has occurred by following strict health protocols and guidelines. As a result, no disease transmission from reintroduced elk to livestock or wildlife has been reported or documented.

Since 2000, there has been significant progress made in our understanding of chronic wasting disease (CWD), including a live-animal test for elk. Our extensive animal health protocols include testing all elk for chronic wasting disease.

Elk relocated into Missouri for the purposes of the elk restoration originate from a CWD-free state and from herds with a history of health surveillance and no evidence of health issues. Imported elk are tested for CWD, brucellosis, blue tongue, anaplasmosis, epizootic hemorrhagic disease, vesicular stomatitis, Johne's disease and bovine tuberculosis prior to shipment to Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services states that there is no evidence that CWD can infect people. The Missouri Department of Agriculture states that current research shows there is no evidence that CWD can spread from infected deer or elk to livestock, such as sheep or cattle.

How many elk will the Department release?

Our proposed plan calls for a limited release of up to 150 elk.

How will the Department handle elk that moved onto private land where they are not wanted?

Our specially trained staff will quickly respond to complaints about unwelcome elk and use various methods to remove them where they are not welcome.

The key to preventing elk problems on private land where they are not wanted is to provide excellent elk habitat on public lands in and around the restoration zone.

Elk that are moved to new areas can travel long distances, but seldom do. With good habitat, which our restoration zone in southeast Missouri offers, an elk’s home range can be a small as 1-20 square miles, compared to 100 square miles out west.

We also offer cost-share incentives for private landowners who welcome elk on their lands in the area of the restoration zone in southeast Missouri to help them manage pastures for both improved livestock grazing and elk habitat.

Couldn't elk restored to the restoration zone rapidly spread statewide?

Elk will be limited to the restoration zone. The Department has policies and procedures to address any elk that stray from the restoration zone. Public lands in the restoration zone are managed in ways to encourage elk to remain on those lands. In the area of Arkansas where elk have become a problem for private landowners, the state has not used hunting as a management tool. Hunting will be the primary tool in Missouri to maintain a desired population size and to help keep elk in the restoration zone.

How will the Department minimize elk-vehicle collisions?

We know from other states that elk-vehicle collisions do occur, but are infrequent. Other key states have larger elk numbers than we will have and their herds cover larger areas with more roads than ours will.

The 346-square-mile restoration zone around Peck Ranch Conservation Area in southeast Missouri contains 33 miles of blacktop highway within the interior of the zone and fewer roads per square mile than elk areas in other states.

Arkansas has about 500 elk in an area covering 500 square miles and has had one or two elk-vehicle accidents per year over the past 25 years—with no human fatalities.

Rutting behavior of elk and deer are very different from each other, which makes elk less prone to vehicle collisions. Bull elk win and defend a group of cows in an established area. Bull elk do not chase cow elk like bucks chase does. This chase prompts deer to cross roadways during the rut.

Some landowners have expressed concerned about increased poaching and trespassing as a result of elk being on their land. How will this concern be addressed?

The Department recognizes landowner concerns with poaching and trespass, and Missouri has existing laws in place to address these issues.

Will elk out-compete other wildlife, such as white-tailed deer and wild turkey?

Elk are more grazers (grass eaters) than whitetail deer, but also browse on woody vegetation and will occasionally eat acorns. Like white-tailed deer, elk are very adaptable and can live in a wide variety of habitats. Elk were a historic component of Missouri’s natural landscape and evolved and coexisted with plants and other animals. Management of savanna, glade and woodland habitats that produce forbs and grasses desired by elk are also beneficial to deer, turkey and other wildlife species. Other states that have successfully restored elk have not observed any significant negative impacts on plants or other wildlife.

What type of habitat improvements benefit elk?

Elk use a variety of habitats, but a mix of forest and openings (dominated by grass and herbaceous plants) is ideal. Elk also use forest openings, glades and woodland habitats.

Key Messages: 

Conservation makes Missouri a great place to hunt and fish.

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