Cumberland Times-News

Local News

November 2, 2012

Elk meeting draws a herd of anxious Marylanders

Locals concerned of possible reintroduction

CUMBERLAND — More than 40 people who gathered Friday for a public forum on the possibility of reintroducing elk into Western Maryland had a wide variety of questions and concerns about the proposal.

One member of the audience said he was a cattle farmer and ran his cattle near Interstate 68. He asked what would happen if the elk tore down his fence and his cattle got out onto the road.

“Who would be responsible,” he said.

The forum, which took place at 8 a.m. in the Allegany Arts Council Conference Room, was coordinated by the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce.

A panel consisting of representatives of a partnership between the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Foundation, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation  addressed questions raised by the audience.

The study of the proposal will involve social, biological and economic feasibility assessments, said Bill Miles, representing the MLSF.

“We hope people will make an informed decision and not an emotional one,” Miles said.

Partnership members pushed the proposal as an economic development tool. They said reintroduction brought economic benefits in states where it has occurred.

“This thing is an economic boon,” Miles said. The money would come from both tourists coming to view the elk and later, possible elk hunting.

“What is the economic development,” asked  Joe Winter of Washington County.

Winter did not seem convinced that economic development would offset the possible problems coming from an elk population.

Mark Duda, a pollster associated with Responsive Management of Hagerstown, said a high percentage of residents said they’d come to Western Maryland to see the animals.

“Where are they going to see the elk? Are they going to walk or hike to public lands,” asked one woman in the audience.

Several people ex-pressed concern about crop damage from elk seeking food.

The introduction of elk would be a careful effort, said Dave Ragantesi of the elk foundation.

The initial elk would be tested for seven diseases and be quarantined for 93 days. The elk would then be released into a designated area.

“You don’t just get them and throw them out,” Ragantesi said. There is no timeline for the reintroduction yet, Miles said, since no decision has been made.

Garrett County commissioners have already rejected the idea of reintroducing elk into their county.

A survey by Responsive Management found strong statewide support for reintroducing elk, with about 75 percent of residents favoring the move. Some of the greatest concerns expressed in the survey were about car accidents and crop damage.

Of the respondents, 230 were from far Western Maryland.

“The overwhelming majority of Maryland residents (87 percent) said they had heard nothing about the possible reintroduction of elk into Maryland. About one in 10 residents (11 percent) had heard a little and very small percentages said they had heard a moderate amount (2 percent) or a great deal (1 percent),” the report states, adding that residents of Garrett and Allegany counties were more likely to be aware of the information regarding reintroduction.

The survey was funded by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com. Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers contributed to this story.

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