The Out­doors­man

Arkansas Elk

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - In This Issue -

With the Christ­mas sea­son only days away, I con­sid­ered writ­ing about rein­deer. But there was one ma­jor prob­lem — th­ese crit­ters are not na­tive to Arkansas. That in mind, I opted to go a lit­tle dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. Al­though Ru­dolf does not fall into this cat­e­gory, I felt it would be nearly as good to high­light yet an­other in­ter­est­ing cervid, a crit­ter that has a long history in Arkansas. That's right, we're go­ing to talk about elk.

The land­scape in Arkansas was once much dif­fer­ent than it is to­day. Prior to the log­ging boom and the re­al­iza­tion that farming would prove a huge in­dus­try, prac­ti­cally all of Arkansas was wooded.

Back in the day, blue stem forests thrived through­out the Oua­chi­tas, lend­ing to tow­er­ing pines tak­ing root in fields of sage and other grasses. In fact, ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion posted on, this par­tic­u­lar sec­tion of the state “was the largest sin­gle ex­panse of shortleaf pine in the United States. In ear­lier times, buf­falo and elk grazed on bluestem grasses that grew be­neath th­ese tall pines.”

Well, with the log­ging boom came an ex­treme change of en­vi­ron­ment. Hard­woods thrived in bare soil and the land­scape would never be the same again.

With this change of en­vi­ron­ment came a no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent habi­tat. Of course, many an­i­mals ben­e­fit­ted from from the new growth of hard­woods and pines. But oth­ers sim­ply didn't fair too well.

Over-hunt­ing had an ad­verse ef­fect on the elk and buf­falo pop­u­la­tions through­out Arkansas. But one would also sus­pect that this dras­tic change in habi­tat would play a role in their demise, as well.

Re­gard­less of the rea­son, th­ese two species even­tu­ally be­came ex­tinct through­out the state. Ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion posted on the Arkansas Game and Fish Com­mis­sion's web­site, east­ern elk (Cervus ela­phus canaden­sis) herds were com­pletely de­pleted no later than the 1840s.

The U.S. For­est Ser­vice did, how­ever, in­tro­duce Rocky Moun­tain Elk (Cervus ela­phus nel­soni) to the Black Moun­tain Refuge in Franklin County in 1933. Three bulls and eight cows were re­leased dur­ing the project.

Dur­ing the early stages of the pro­gram, it ap­peared the project would be a suc­cess. By the mid 1950s, the herd had in­creased to an es­ti­mated 200 head. But for an un­known rea­son, they even­tu­ally all van­ished.

It has been spec­u­lated that the rea­sons for the elks'

demise were three-fold. Of course, mor­tal­ity played a role. But it has also been sug­gested that poach­ing and a dwin­dling habi­tat were also pos­si­ble fac­tors.

The first ef­fort to rein­tro­duce elk to the state was a flop, but that was no in­di­ca­tion all ef­forts would be aborted.

In fact, the AGFC em­barked upon yet an­other elk restora­tion project in 1981. Dur­ing the next four years, 112 elk were ac­quired from Colorado and and Ne­braska, and trans­ported to the Ozark Moun­tains, specif­i­cally New­ton County.

Re­leased in close prox­im­ity of the Buf­falo Na­tional River, the large cervids were closely mon­i­tored by AGFC and Na­tional Park ser­vice per­son­nel. Nearly 35 years later, their ef­forts ap­pear to be a suc­cess.

Ac­cord­ing to data, the herd is now es­ti­mated at in the neigh­bor­hood of 450 head. To­day's elk range in Arkansas con­sists of about 315,000 acres. Of that property, 85,000 acres con­sist of pub­lic land. Na­tional Park Ser­vice and Na­tional For­est lands are among this pub­lic property, as is the AGFC Gene Rush Wildlife Man­age­ment Area.

Of course, this project's suc­cess is a re­sult of count­less hours of man­age­ment prac­tices. Na­tional and state agen­cies, as well as pri­vate en­ti­ties, have taken steps to en­sure habi­tat is avail­able for th­ese large, beau­ti­ful crea­tures.

The ef­forts de­voted to im­prov­ing elk habi­tat on the Gene Rush WMA is but one ex­am­ple. In co­op­er­a­tion with the Rocky Moun­tain Elk Foun­da­tion, the AGFC's en­deav­ors have led to sig­nif­i­cant re­turns.

The Na­tional Park Ser­vice co­op­er­a­tion has also proved of huge im­por­tance. In fact, it has fo­cused on im­prove­ments of habi­tat along the Buf­falo River con­sist­ing of more than 95,000 acres.

Some of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice's prac­tices in­clude pre­scribed burns, plant­ing plants that are ben­e­fi­cial to this species and pro­vid­ing na­tive grass open­ings.

As a re­sult of the hard work and per­se­ver­ance of those who have played a role in the rein­tro­duc­tion of elk to Arkansas, we all ben­e­fit.

Those with a pas­sion for hunt­ing who are lucky enough to draw a per­mit are able to ac­tu­ally hunt th­ese an­i­mals within hours of home. And those who are more in­ter­ested in watch­ing them go about their ev­ery­day rit­u­als are likely to get some good views with no more ef­fort than em­bark­ing upon a pleas­ant drive to the Ozarks' Box­ley Val­ley.

Re­gard­less of one's fa­vorite out­door ac­tiv­ity, there's some­thing spe­cial about see­ing th­ese beau­ti­ful crea­tures roam­ing in the Ozarks. And thanks to the work of many we will likely con­tinue to enjoy this lux­ury for years to come.

Story and pho­tog­ra­phy by Cor­bet Deary Al­though once ex­tinct in Arkansas, Elk are once again thriv­ing in sec­tions of the Ozarks.

Much man­power has been ded­i­cated to pro­vid­ing habi­tat for elk to thrive in the Ozarks’ New­ton County. Those em­bark­ing on a drive to Box­ley, Ark. are apt to see them thriv­ing in close vicin­ity to the high­way.

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