Smokies not pleased with Wildlife Commission stance on elk

The North Carolina Wildlife Commission is at odds with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park over the status of the newly reintroduced elk herd.

The N.C. Wildlife Commission has come under fire for its plan to remove elk from the state list of species of special concern. As it scrambles to defend the delisting, the wildlife commission is pointing to a change in the herd’s status by the national park as the reason.

“From a biological perspective, with the information from the park we’ve gotten indicating they’ll declare the elk reintroduction a success, it means we don’t need to protect them with the special status,” said David Cobb, chief of the wildlife management division for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

But that’s not exactly right, according to Bob Miller, a spokesperson for the Smokies. Miller said the park has not yet categorized the reintroduction of elk a success.

“We never told them the reintroduction program was a success,” Miller said. “What we told them is we have a population that is stable barring some kind of disaster or human intervention.”

The park does plan to change the herd’s status from an “experimental release” to an official “reintroduction” later this year. Under the experimental release status, the park was monitoring the herd closely to see whether they were a good fit for the ecosystem. The shift to an official “reintroduction” is different from declaring it a success, however.

Elk were reintroduced to the Cataloochee area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001. Since then the initial herd of 52 animals has grown in size to 110 animals.

Miller said the park would submit a formal letter clarifying its position to the Wildlife Commission before the end of the public comment period.

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