An elk crossing road in Pennsylvania, 1998.
The hunter-backed effort to bring wild elk back to western Maryland is gaining some steam, though fierce resistance remains in key quarters.
A survey done by pro-hunting groups finds that nearly three-fourths of Marylanders asked favor restoring the large, majestic ungulates to the state's mountainous region, which hasn't seen any of the animals since the 1700s.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has been working with the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to review the biological, social and economic feasibility of restoring the species in the state. The telephone survey, done by Responsive Management, a Virginia-based polling firm, was underwritten by the two foundations, according to a DNR press release about it.
While the survey found widespread public support for bringing elk back to Maryland, the survey also found a strong current of opposition among some western Maryland farmers and others who feared the large animals could jeopardize their livelihood, spread disease or damage their property.
Bill Miles of the sportsmen's foundation called the results "encouraging, but by no means conclusive" in a DNR-issued press release.
The foundation plans to hold meetings over the coming months with interested stakeholders, while DNR is reviewing whether there is suitable habitat left in that part of the state for the animals, which tend to roam. DNR Secretary John Griffin has said the department will be guided by "science and informed public input" in ultimately deciding sometime this fall whether to try releasing elk in western Maryland.
The survey results showing strong public support in Maryland mirror a similar poll done by Responsive Management backing the presence of wild elk in southeastern Kentucky, years after they'd been released there.
But the reception in Kentucky hasn't been without its problems and detractors. The 1,500 elk reintroduced there since 1997 have grown now to more than 10,000, and an Associated Press story last year reported on residents of one town complaining about the animals flattening fences, trampling gardens and causing car crashes. State officials authorized town residents to hunt the troublesome animals, and have been thinning the herd by capturing some and moving them to other states for reintroduction.