Missouri elk are being reintroduced in the wrong part of the state, anthropologist says

Apr 28, 2011

According to prehistoric records, elk roamed the northwestern part of Missouri until 1865. Now, the Missouri Department of Conservation is planning to reintroduce elk, but this time in the southeast part of the state. While a University of Missouri anthropologist believes the reintroduction is good for elk, tourism and the economy, he said the effort may have unintended negative consequences that are difficult to predict.

R. Lee Lyman, the chair of in the College of Arts and Science, has studied the history of mammals, and wildlife management for nearly 40 years. He said a 2002 MU study completed by a graduate student proved that most prehistoric elk remains found in Missouri were in the field plains of the northwestern area of the state, not the southeast reintroduction location.

"If we are looking for the best place for elk survival, we should consider why elk were not in the southeastern part of the state in prehistoric times," Lyman said. "If they weren't there previously, why would they survive there now? The Mississippi flood plain -where they are being reintroduced – is not the best habitat, because elk didn't live there for some reason, such as the wrong kind of food or bad terrain."

A coordinated effort to control a species is always controversial, Lyman said, because it involves many different factors, including politics, economics, tourism and biology. Lyman believes mistakes can be avoided if the prehistoric record is considered.

In his most recent study, Lyman found that the North American elk in the mountains of eastern Washington State were native to those mountains – even though popular mythology, and early science, indicated that humans had driven the elk there from adjacent lowlands. The results were published in the March edition of the journal Environmental Management.

There are plenty of examples where wild animal control has not been advantageous to the environment. For example, in Missouri, river otters that were reintroduced are now dominating ponds and overtaking ecosystems. In Montana and Idaho, ranchers and farmers have successfully fought to get wolves reintroduced to the Yellowstone ecosystem in the early 1990s removed from the endangered list, so that farmers can kill the wolves, which jeopardize livestock.

"The issues in these situations relate to time and the ecological cascade that happens when you change one variable," Lyman said. "A hundred years is nothing when compared to the 12,000 years elk have been in America. So what is going to happen when elk roam the Ozarks? If we think that 500-pound are going to stay in one area – that is pretty naïve. No matter how much data scientists collect and use to make predictions, we're still talking about wild animals. The truth is no one really knows."

Lyman points to Missouri's whitetail deer as an example of animals thriving in the dense Missouri forests.

"The scrawny whitetail deer in our cities and dead along our highways are proof that there can be too much of a good thing," Lyman said.

Explore further: Endangered green turtles may feed, reside at Peru's central, northern coast

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Many in West fear wolf reintroduction

Dec 27, 2005

Some 900 wolves roam Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado thanks to a federal program that reintroduced and protected the wolf in the West.

Over a century after disappearing, wild elk return to Ontario

Feb 21, 2007

After disappearing from Ontario due to over hunting in the 19th century, wild elk have returned to the province thanks to the efforts of the Ontario elk restoration program. According to a report on the program’s success, ...

Chronic wasting disease found in 13 elk

Apr 10, 2008

The U.S. National Park Service said 13 female elk captured in Rocky Mountain National Park this winter tested positive for chronic wasting disease.

Recommended for you

Study: Volunteering can help save wildlife

8 hours ago

Participation of non-scientists as volunteers in conservation can play a significant role in saving wildlife, finds a new scientific research led by Duke University, USA, in collaboration with Wildlife Conservation ...

Great apes facing 'direct threat' from palm oil farming

14 hours ago

The destruction of rainforests in Southeast Asia and increasingly in Africa to make way for palm oil cultivation is a "direct threat" to the survival of great apes such as the orangutan, environmentalists ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.