The Great Elk Comeback

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The Great Elk Comeback

“the great elk comeback”
Return of the nation’s majestic herds

Elk have roamed North America for tens of thousands of years. An estimated 10 million of the animals inhabited the continent before the arrival of Europeans. By 1900, the great prairie herds were gone, and fewer than 100,000 elk were confined to a few remote or protected reserves.

A century ago, the nation’s elk herds were in severe decline, having been reduced by unrestricted hunting and loss of habitat. Fortunately, elk have made a remarkable comeback, and herds once again wander the Appalachian Mountains where the animals were hunted into extinction in the 1860’s.

The return of the elk is one of the greatest wildlife recovery stories in American history thanks to sportsmen and conservationists. Today, more than 1 million elk inhabit the United States, a tenfold increase since restoration began. Colorado has the largest herd, numbering 283,000 animals, followed by Montana with 150,000; Oregon, 125,000; Wyoming, 120,000; and Idaho, 103,000. Since reintroduction in 1997, Kentucky’s elk herd has grown to 10,000.

Tule Elk State Natural Reserve near Tule Lake Calif., is home to the smallest species of elk in North America. Found only in California, tule elk—named for a group of marshland plants near Tule Lake Calif. Elk received a big boost in 1984 with formation of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, 180,000 member organization. Since its inception, the foundation has conserved or enhanced more than 6 million acres and helped to maintain or restore elk herds in 28 states.

Elk are among the largest free-ranging game animals in North America. Only bear, bison and moose are larger. Roosevelt elk, a subspecies named after Theodore Roosevelt that lives in the Pacific Northwest rainforests, can weigh more than 1,000 pounds, though adult elk typically average 500 to 700 pounds.

They are a royal symbol of the deer family and are the kings of the deer family. They’re not as large as a moose, but they’re a whole lot prettier. With their distinctive buff-colored rumps and stately gait, elk are magnificent creatures prized by hunters for their large antlers and lean meat. An elk’s two top canine teeth are ivory and are still prized by members of the Order Of Elks to be worn proudly as a piece of jewelry.

The grand antlers grown by mature bulls are used to spar and secure female harems. During the fall mating season, bulls “bugle” – make a shrill whistling call—to attract cows and declare their dominance. During recent years, 69 elk from Kentucky were relocated to southeastern Missouri, establishing the first wild herd in the Show-Me-State for 150 years.

Hopefully, this will relate to you, our members, of the early history of the animal from which our Order derives it’s name.

By Charlie Carroll, PDDGER—Lodge Historian