Assessing the Feasibility of a Sustainable, Huntable Elk Population in North Carolina

Elk were introduced in 2001 to the Cataloochee Valley area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM). In 2008, the National Park Service transferred responsibility for elk management outside GRSM to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC). Expansion of elk outside of GRSM boundaries presents recreational opportunities for residents and tourists but also increases human-elk conflict and associated property damage, cost of preventive action, and administrative burden for NCWRC staff. Therefore, NCWRC commissioned an integrated biological, economic, and social assessment of the feasibility and value of maintaining a sustainable, hunted elk population outside GRSM in North Carolina. Biologically, we found that the projected population of elk would likely grow in areas where they currently exist, even with modest harvest rates of 4 to 6 males per year. This is probably because of a nearby source herd and large, less developed landscapes. However, even without hunting, establishing additional elk herds in areas remote from the current population would likely fail if herds experience even slightly lower survival and recruitment because of potentially higher levels of elk/human conflict, reduction in quality of habitat, or higher disease rates. Economically, the elk herd would generally continue to be positive for North CarolinaĆ¢??s economy, increasing tourism, and conveying net benefits that could total millions of dollars per year, depending on the realized scenario.

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