Cumberland Times-News

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January 10, 2013

Pennsylvania residents discuss Rocky Mountain elk reintroduction

CUMBERLAND — As an investigation continues about whether or not to reintroduce Rocky Mountain elk into far Western Maryland, it appears there are a number of residents of the Weedville, Pa., area who would be glad to contribute some of those large animals from their neck of Penn’s Woods.

Jeremy Rippey is a Jay Township supervisor within the appropriately named Elk County.

“There have been a lot of complaints about the elk being in (Weedville),” Rippey said Thursday. “I don’t think anybody wants them all gone, but they don’t want them in their backyards either.”

Rippey said the Pennsylvania Game Commission attended a Jan. 3 meeting with about 100 Weedville area residents. The town population is about 500.

“Nobody spoke in favor of the elk,” Rippey said. “We are at the intersection of two state highways. Last year, 16 elk were struck and killed on Route 255. They cause traffic backups, too, when people stop to watch them. Some drivers don’t pull off the road to do it.”

The elk eat ornamental shrubs, destroy trees and the bulls even use their antlers to damage siding on houses, according to Rippey.

Rippey said the elk are a boon to the area financially.

“People come from the cities — Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and those suburbs — to see the elk and they spend money here.”

Rippey owns a tavern, restaurant and hotel in Weedville and said he benefits from elk tourism.

A phone call Wednesday and an email Thursday from the Times-News to the Pennsylvania Game Commission went unanswered.

According to Rippey, the commission will trap and relocate some elk and harass others into moving. “They also said they would cut the antlers off the bulls, which should make them less aggressive and cause them to seek isolation until they grow back.”

Rippey said he doesn’t know of any injuries to humans from elk, but is aware of pet dogs that have been gored by bulls.

A bull can weigh up to 700 pounds and a cow as much as 400, according to online sources.

The commission will also increase the number of elk-hunting tags in that area, Rippey said.

Rippey said the bulk of Pennsylvania’s elk herd of 800 or so is located about 10 miles from Weedville. “But we have about 70 right here in town,” he said.

Murray Lilley, also a township supervisor, said the elk don’t bother him.

“I’m 55 and they were here before me,” Lilley said. “I like looking at them.”

In August 2011, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Foundation and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced that a reintroduction of elk would be analyzed for far Western Maryland.

The idea, in spite of being supported by 75 percent of Marylanders contacted in a phone survey by Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, Va., appears to have languished. The newest timetable for a decision is this coming spring, according to Bill Miles of the sportsmen’s foundation.

“We are hoping to meet with small groups of landowners, especially those who have large holdings near public lands, to get their input,” Miles said.

The elk foundation contributed $125,000 to pay for the evaluation of a reintroduction.

Miles said a habitat survey has been put off until the pulse of Western Maryland residents can be more clearly determined about a reintroduction.

“This has never been designed to be a hard sell,” Miles said. “It’s an opportunity, including $5 million in tourism, for the two western counties.

“Some of the comments I have heard opposing the reintroduction have been outrageous,” Miles said, “such as elk coming into school yards and killing kids or having to fence in all of Interstate 68 or coming up with a waste management plan for elk droppings.”

Very shortly after the 2011 announcement, the idea was opposed by the elected Garrett County commissioners and the Maryland Farm Bureau.

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.

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