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Posts Tagged ‘reintroduce’

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Photo: Morgan Hornsby
Elk on view at the Salato Wildlife Center. Kentucky is reintroducing elk where coal mines are no longer operating.

It’s interesting to me that when people compare the economic benefits of, say, working in the coal business with working in the elk-tourism business, they don’t routinely include the economic benefits of things like better health. High unemployment is a serious concern, but I do know that miners routinely got black lung disease and that there were pollution dangers to their families.

The story that made me think about this was by Oliver Whang at the New York Times.

“On a bright morning early this spring, David Ledford sat in his silver pickup at the end of a three-lane bridge spanning a deep gorge in southeast Kentucky.

“The bridge, which forks off U.S. 119, … spills out onto Mr. Ledford’s 12,000-acre property, which he and his business partner, Frank Allen, are developing into a nonprofit nature reserve called Boone’s Ridge. ..

“When Boone’s Ridge opens in 2022, it will offer a museum and opportunities for bird-watching and animal spotting. Two independent consultants have estimated that it could draw more than 1 million annual visitors and add over $150 million per year to the regional economy. This is in Bell County, in rural Appalachia, which has a poverty rate of 38 percent and an average household income of just under $25,000, making it one of the poorest counties in the United States.

The decline of the coal industry created a multibillion-dollar hole in the economy and left hundreds of thousands of acres of scarred land. But it has also created opportunities.

“Boone’s Ridge is being established on reclaimed mine land, and one of its biggest selling points is a big animal that has only recently returned to Kentucky: elk.

“When Daniel Boone wandered through the Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky in the late 1700s, the state was filled with wildlife. … But in less than a century, land development and hunting decimated or eliminated buffalo, turkey, whitetail deer, river otters, bald eagles, quail and other animals. Elk — their presence enshrined in place-names like Elk River and Elkhorn City — were among the first to go. …

“In 1944, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources was established and charged with reintroducing animals of all kinds and regulating their numbers for hunting and conservation. Whitetail deer, which numbered fewer than 1,000 after the Depression, now number more than 1 million and generate $550 million in state revenue from hunting licenses, tourism and the sale of rifles and other hunting-related paraphernalia. …

“With most of the region’s threatened game restored, attention turned to restoring other species, among them elk. In 1997, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, an association of hunters, offered to fund a multimillion-dollar six-year plan to airlift more than 1,500 elk to Kentucky from the western United States. …

“The plan was popular; more than 90 percent of state residents supported it. There was only one problem: Each elk eats over 40 pounds of vegetation a day, and the grassland habitats of western Kentucky, where the animals were populous in pre-settlement times, had all been developed. Farm owners did not want half-ton animals destroying their crops,. …

“But in the eastern half, where craggy mountains had previously prevented elk population growth, hunters and conservationists were presented with a remedy to this problem: abandoned coal mines. …

“Unregulated, the environmental effects of mountaintop removal-mining can be devastating and lasting. … But when reclaimed correctly, the landscape can offer opportunities for different kinds of land use, including cattle farming, housing developments and sites for tourism. …

“In 1997, a year before the bridge leading to Mr. Ledford’s land was constructed, 4,000 people gathered on the grassy slope of a reclaimed mine in Perry County as Governor Patton threw open the doors of a trailer and an elk stepped foot on Kentucky land for the first time in more than 150 years. …

“Absent any real predators, the animal’s population has exploded: The state is now home to 13,000 elk and counting, all clustered in the 16 counties of coal country. …

The economic impact is tangible. The state now issues a couple hundred tags for elk hunting each year, and a small market has developed — elk sightseeing tours, elk hunting guides — that adds about $5 million to local economies, according to the state fish and wildlife department.

“The elk industry will not come close to replacing what was lost when coal left, but ‘coal business will not be back,’ said Rodney Gardner, a naturalist at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Floyd County.” Read more here.

Now I want to know what Steven Stoll, author of Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia, thinks about all this. Through his book, I was made aware for the first time that when conservation efforts preclude subsistence farming, families often suffer.

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