Blog Post

Elk go to West Virginia

Elk go to West Virginia

Update 3/5/2017

By Curtis Fowler, Range Technician at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

I recently received a quick update from West Virginia’s elk manager regarding the status of elk Land Between the Lakes provided to West Virginia for release into the wild. It seems that most of them are doing OK up there in the coal hills, though 2 have died, the rest seem mostly healthy and content.

The herd has stayed mostly on the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area so far, which is very good!

They have stayed primarily within a 2.5 mile circle and have not entered any surrounding communities.

Staff putting a tracking collar on an elk
Once an elk is sedated, the teams go to work taking care of the animal. Blood is drawn, ear tags replaced, and a tracking collar is put on. All of this took place in Land Between the Lakes in mid-November in preparation for transport to West Virginia in December 2016.

While exploring their new surroundings, they came across an area the mining company has started re-shaping and re-seeding on the edge of the release area. Thanks to warmer temperatures, those seeded areas have now started to sprout some green vegetation. Since they are already used to being around public traffic in the Elk & Bison Prairie, the elk are staying in that area and still foraging somewhat near the moving bulldozers, etc when the workers start back to work each day.

Staff putting tracking collar on an elk
Staff from both West Virginia Department of Natural Resources and Land Between the Lakes take care of this elk who is to be transferred to West Virginia. They are putting a tracking collar on her to monitor her location in her new home.

They have only had a couple of 3”-4” snows up there, which quickly melted, so weather stresses have not been too bad this season.  Those that have survived for 2 full months now should have a very good chance of making it as long as injuries don’t occur.

As you may remember, they were transported from Land Between the Lakes to West Virginia December 15, then released from their temporary acclimation/holding pens on a mountaintop at the end of December and have been roaming free since then.

Elk with collar
Once the sedative was reversed, she was ready to run.

West Virginia’s wildlife folks recently received some awards from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for their work getting the elk released into West Virginia, and Governor Tomblin received RMEF’s Conservationist of the Year award. We are fortunate to be part of such a beneficial partnership.

All-in-all everyone seems pretty happy with having elk roam around ‘dem hills and hollers.

–Curtis Fowler 3/5/17

Dear friends,

It’s official! West Virginia Division of Natural Resources selected us to provide a seed herd to reintroduce elk into the wilds of West Virginia. We first told you about this possible partnership last June in a blog article which you can find at

Range Technician Curtis Fowler explains procedures for capturing, examining, and moving elk.
Range Technician Curtis Fowler explains procedures for capturing, examining, and moving elk.

Our elk will be moved to roam free in a 45,000 acre site spanning seven-counties in southwestern West Virginia that provide quality grazing areas for survival. Elk primarily feed on native grasses, wild flowers, and herbs in the summer months and on shrubs, twigs, tree bark, and nuts during winter. Our Elk & Bison Prairie provides a perfect habitat for these large animals.

Around 20 elk from our herd of 72, will eventually settle in West Virginia.  According to the West Virginia Elk Management Plan FY2016-FY2020 found at, the Division of Natural Resource biologist anticipate their elk to respond similarly as they have in Kentucky’s restored herds. A trait they found in their research concluded that eastern herds prefer to remain close to their release sites instead of migrating like they do in the west.

Elk calves with babysitting cow, Photo by Ray Stainfield
Elk calves with babysitting cow, Photo by Ray Stainfield

You can find out more about our elk by searching our website, at our history blog on the Elk & Bison Prairie, and on the Prairie’s homepage at

This right here is one reason we maintain a healthy elk herd at Land Between the Lakes – so we can help restore native wildlife to their natural habitats. This is also how we control our herd size.

I hope you were fortunate enough to hear the elk bugling in the Prairie this fall. I enjoy hearing the noises they make during the fall. Here’s a minute video by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation of elk bugling at

The leaves are turning. This is my first fall in Kentucky and Tennessee. I am excited and happy to be here!


John D. Westbrook
Environmental Stewardship Department Manager

P.S. When we begin the process, we will need to close the prairie for about a week as we gather the elk. We expect to do this around the middle of November.

Related Posts