Governor Jim Justice Steps in to Save Elk
CHARLESTON, WV - Governor Jim Justice has contacted the White House and representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to request aid in protecting elk being held in a five-acre holding pen at the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County.
The 50 elk, captured in Arizona and transported to West Virginia in March, are currently waiting on final testing results for disease, as required by USDA.
Stress from summer heat, prolonged confinement and the testing procedure have resulted in the deaths of three elk, two of which were pregnant. Three other recently born calves also have died while awaiting release. The USDA requires state wildlife agencies to treat free-ranging elk the same as those raised on farms.
However, Gov. Justice says the two are completely different.
“Captive elk raised on farms are used to human contact and being confined. Wild elk, like the ones captured in Arizona and transported by truck after being tranquilized, are much more likely to die from the stress,” Gov. Justice said. “I am in contact with the folks in Washington, D.C. to try to get this situation resolved so that no more of our elk die before they can be released to join our growing elk herd.”
Before transport to West Virginia, the elk were quarantined for 30 days in Arizona. During that time, the elk tested negative for disease. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) requested a waiver for a second USDA-required quarantine and round of disease testing after the elk arrived in West Virginia, but that request was denied.
The USDA indicated they would send a representative to the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area before the testing, and again as testing began May 25, but DNR officials were informed that Dr. James Shere, deputy administrator for the USDA’s Animal Health Inspection Service, would not attend either time. The elk cannot be released without approval from the USDA. Tests were completed Thursday, and results are expected today. All test results, so far, have come back negative for disease.
“We did everything we could to try and get the USDA to participate in the process so they could be aware of the problems we were having in quarantining wild animals for so long. On two different occasions they agreed to come, most recently last week, and both times they canceled,” said DNR Director Stephen McDaniel. “I thank Gov. Justice for his help in trying to get this situation resolved as quickly as possible. As soon as he realized there was an issue he jumped into action and worked throughout the holiday weekend to save our elk.”
Once released, the Arizona elk will join 35 elk brought from Kentucky over the past two years as part of the DNR’s elk restoration program.
Butch Antolini, Butch.Antolini@wv.gov