Arizona elk headed to West Virginia

Dozens of Arizona elk will soon roam southern West Virginia’s reclaimed coal fields, bugling a call of the wild not heard in the Mountain State since the Civil War.

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission last year voted to send 60 elk to help the effort. In late January a team of wildlife managers and volunteers captured and quarantined the animals at a state wildlife viewing area in the piñon-juniper scrublands between Flagstaff and Winslow.

The animals will head east on a double-decker cattle truck once they’re confirmed to be disease-free.

A subspecies of elk thrived in eastern states until 19th-century development and unregulated hunting wiped out the herds.

Restoring native fauna is “every wildlife biologist’s goal,” West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Director Stephen McDaniel said while a helicopter ferried lightly sedated and blindfolded elk one at a time from the hills to a holding corral.

Arizona’s gift is an echo of the one that it received more than a century ago from Yellowstone National Park.

Hunting and ranching had killed off the Southwest’s native Merriam’s elk by 1906. A decade later Arizona received its first shipment of Rocky Mountain elk from Yellowstone. Those elk and subsequent transplants grew by the thousands during the second half of the 20th century, and after the turn of this century, Arizona has been donating to other states.

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