Two decades ago, seven elk realized they weren’t in Kansas anymore. These seven were the first to be released into eastern Kentucky. Today, the herd has grown to more than 10,000.
It’s now the largest herd east of the Mississippi River. The collaborative effort of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has proven to be one of the most successful reintroductions ever.
Check out the historic first release in the video below.
20 YEARS AGO TODAY: Thousands watched the first elk release in Eastern Kentucky. This marked the beginning of a very successful restoration effort after elk became extinct here 150 years ago. I'll never forget covering this with Tony Turner (I came home from college for it) and seeing Dad's vision become a reality. My Dad, Doug Hensley, was the 7th District Fish and Wildlife Commissioner at the time. I believe I was one of only two people with a video camera that got the shot of former Governor Paul Patton opening the door to release the elk. The other was Kentucky Afield.
Posted by Steve Hensley WYMT on Monday, December 18, 2017
Did you recognize former Governor Paul Patton opening the gate?
More than 4,000 people showed up to watch the release of these elk.
RMEF contributed $2 million toward the restoration project. Membership dues, sponsorships, fundraisers, sales and grants provided funds for the project. A highly efficient agency, $0.94 out of every dollar goes straight to conservation projects.
With few predators, mild winters and plenty of food, the elk population expanded rapidly. Consequently, they were able to reach their goal population a full 11 years ahead of schedule.
As a result, eastern Kentucky has become more liberal issuing elk permits. That’s exciting for hunters because the elk in Kentucky tend to be an average of 15 percent larger!
This is a great example of how the hunting community helps to support wildlife and habitat conservation. In just two decades, eastern Kentucky has gone from just a few elk to a flourishing population. With the population goal met, the RMEF is now focusing on permanent habitat conservation.