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For those who love the outdoors, it’s not hard to list the reasons why Western North Carolina is a spectacular place to live, and from that standpoint, the year 2016 certainly didn’t fail to deliver. The curtains are now closing on 2016, but the year will get its proper send-off with this roundup of favorite moments and memorable stories from the past 12 months outdoors.

These days, bovines — not elk — are the only cows wandering around the Ross dairy farm in Jonathan Creek.

Elk may be the most polarizing animal in Western North Carolina right now, but William Carter has kept a closer eye on the issue than most. Carter makes his living off a small mountain farm in the Jonathan Creek area, sharing a property line with the Ross dairy farm — that family’s elk-related struggles have earned them plenty of unwanted time in the local spotlight. 

SEE ALSO: Two-mile fence keeps elk off dairy farm following winter shooting of seven animals

As the elk population has grown, Carter’s found himself wondering what the future holds for his acres of beans, pumpkins and cattle pasture.

Elk hearing draws a crowd

A minor adjustment to elk depredation rules brought 70 people — about 40 of them college students — out to Haywood Community College last week for a public hearing with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

fr dogsrunningBear hunters on the Qualla Boundary may be able to run their dogs through tribal reserve land for a full half year following contentious discussion and a divided vote in Cherokee Tribal Council this month. 

elkElk hunting could be on the way to becoming legal in North Carolina following the N.C. Wildlife Resource’s Commission unanimous vote in favor of a rule change last week, though any actual season on elk is likely still a good ways in the future. 

out huntMark Rogers sticks his hand through the cold air outside Bethel Grocery into the even more frigid interior of the standalone freezer settled beside the building along U.S. 276 in Haywood County. There’s a dead coyote inside, folded body hard and rigid through a combination of cold and rigor mortis. Rogers pulls it out into the sunlight, where bright rays bounce shine off its array of red, gray and white hairs.

out frIt’s been 30 years since Raymond Bunn saw his first coyote, and that moment — Clay County, 1986 — is not one he’s likely to forget. 

“I remember well seeing it,” said Bunn, manager at Shed’s Hunting Supply in Sylva. “When I first seen it, I thought it was a German shepherd dog or something like that, but it was a coyote.”

out frShould North Carolina start thinking about a hunting season for elk? 

If the crowd that turned out to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s public hearing last week is any indication, it depends who you ask. Farmers, hunters, biologists, wildlife enthusiasts and everyone in between filled the seats at Haywood Community College’s auditorium, waiting for the chance to give their two cents on the Wildlife Commission’s proposal to pave the way for an elk hunting season in the future.

coverFifteen years ago, a herd of 52 elk set foot in their new home — the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — for the first time, the start of an experimental attempt to restore the long-absent species to its rightful place in the North Carolina mountains. 

These days, the elk herd is quite a bit larger, with groups of the animals pinching off the original herd in the Cataloochee area and even taking up residence outside park boundaries. In anticipation of the herd’s continued growth, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has come out with a proposal to pave the way for an elk season, putting up the legal framework to make hunting possible once it deems population levels high enough. Often, proposals related to hunting and wildlife management are controversial, but this one appears to have support from a broad spectrum of people representing a range of wildlife and conservation interests.

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