Conservation purchase will protect elk, other wildlife on I-40
A 187-acre conservation purchase in Haywood County will allow for wildlife grazing and movement near Interstate 40.
The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy bought the property, which is surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest and adjoins the N.C. Welcome Center along the highway. It’s also near the Pigeon River and close to a large box culvert under the interstate, which allows wildlife to safely cross from one side to another.
The property may provide grazing habitat for elk coming off of adjoining Hurricane Mountain — unlike many SAHC tracts, the land is predominantly meadow and young forest. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, and other partners identified the tract as a conservation priority because it provides a key corridor for elk and other animals.
“Our N.C. elk need a place to live and appropriate food to eat to meet their basic needs,” said Kim Delozier, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s conservation program manager for the Eastern U.S. “The Wilkins Creek tract specifically will provide habitat in young forest and forest openings — habitats that are lacking in our N.C. mountains. Also, we have a responsibility to help elk, deer, bear and other wildlife cross the interstate and other roads, which create barriers for safe movement. SAHC’s purchase of the Wilkins Creek tract is a major step to accomplishing this goal now and in the future.”
Following the successful reintroduction of elk in Cataloochee Valley in 2001 and 2002, the elk herd has grown from the initial 52 animals to about 150 today. That growth has spurred conversations between various partners as to how best to plan for the animals’ continued survival and movement through the area.
This acquisition expands SAHC’s work in securing important habitat and wildlife corridors in the region. In 2017, SAHC acquired 147 acres to the south at Stevens Creek, a quiet cove on the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Stevens Creek tract contains important habitat and water resources near the remote Cataloochee Valley area of the national park.
SAHC plans to own the Wilkins Creek property for the short term, managing it for habitat and working with partners to monitor the presence and movement of wildlife on the property.