(Summersville) – Missouri’s free-ranging elk herd got a boost Tuesday, as the Missouri Department of Conservation released 33 elk at Peck Ranch Conservation Area in Carter County. Another release of 13 elk is planned for Saturday on neighboring land in the elk-restoration zone.
In May, MDC brought 35 elk from Kentucky and placed them in holding pens at Peck Ranch CA. Since then, 11 of the elk cows have produced calves, bringing the number of elk available for release this year to 46. Elk still in holding pens at Peck Ranch CA after the Tuesday release will be taken to land owned by The Nature Conservancy and released to the wild on Saturday.
MDC launched the elk-restoration program in 2011, when it brought 34 elk from Kentucky. Officials say this year’s releases will bring Missouri’s free-ranging elk population to approximately 80. In addition, MDC biologists expect the majority of last year’s cows to bear young this year.
Hot, dry weather has reduced the movement of free-ranging elk. Elk Restoration Program Coordinator Ron Dent says they are making use of natural forage available in shady portions of the 221,000-acre elk-restoration zone in Shannon, Carter and Reynolds counties.
The 12,000-acre central refuge area of Peck Ranch CA currently is closed to the public to minimize disturbance of calfs as they settle into their new surroundings. The portion of Peck Ranch CA outside the marked refuge fence remains open to hunting and other activities. Dent said MDC will announce the reopening of the refuge some time in July.