Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Elk introduced in former surface mined land in Central Appalachia to help restore ecosystems and local economies

A relocated Rocky Mountain elk roams a former strip mine in Buchanan County, Virginia. (Photo by Leon Boyd)
Elk were once native to the Appalachian Mountains, were driven out by overhunting and loss of habitat. But these days, elk are making a comeback in Central Appalachia because of strip mining, Mason Adams reports for Yes!

When a company has stopped mining, it's required to do some restoration. That usually means covering the area with topsoil and seeding it with grass and shrubs to prevent erosion. It turns out that such terrain, flat and scrubby with pockets of forests, is the perfect habitat for elk, Adams reports. Almost 2,000 have been relocated to the region from the Rocky Mountains with the help of local volunteers and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. In the Eastern Kentucky Coal Field, where they were first released, their number has grown to more than 10,000.

"Central Appalachian communities are burdened with more than a million acres of these flattened mountains, many of which have been restored on the cheap," Adams reports. "Faced with the quandary of what to do with these problematic lands, several states have used them as reintroduction sites for elk in hopes of enriching the habitat for diverse animal species. And the hopes that follow involve some economic revival in coal country from tourist dollars spent by wildlife watchers and, eventually, hunters."

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