Howard Whiteman is a professor of wildlife and conservation biology at Murray State University and director of the Watershed Studies Institute.
In 2014 I drew a coveted Kentucky elk tag from the state’s lottery, which granted me the privilege of hunting a restored elk population in Breathitt County. I had dreamed of hunting elk in the eastern U.S. since I was a young child in Pennsylvania in the 1970s, when I inherited my grandfather’s dusty book of game laws, published when elk were fair game in the Keystone State. By the time I was given that book, elk could not be legally hunted anywhere in the eastern half of the country.
The last of the eastern elk subspecies were killed in the late 1870s in the mountains of Pennsylvania — habitat loss due to human development and market hunting had led to their demise. Elk restoration in the eastern U.S. began in 1913 but only took off when Kentucky, with help from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, started releasing elk in 1997. Over the next five years, 1,541 elk donated from six western states were reintroduced to eastern Kentucky. Most of these elk rely on reclaimed surface mines for forage... Read more