Monday, December 18, 2000

Ky. readies for elk season

Drawing to pick hunters expects to raise $600,000

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

        PIKEVILLE, Ky. — Wildlife officials began hauling elk into the mountains of eastern Kentucky several years ago. Starting next year, hunters will begin hauling them out.

        The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources will hold a drawing to select 10 hunters to take part in the first elk hunt in the state in more than 150 years.

        Jon Gassett, coordinator of the state's elk program, said he expects about 60,000 people from across the country to pay $10 for the chance to hunt elk in Kentucky. He said that would raise $600,000 for the state to transport more elk into the mountains from Arizona, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon and Utah.

        “There could be more than that apply,” he said. “Kentucky has 181,000 deer hunters who may be interested.”

        Kentucky now has about 850 elk in the mountain region. Wildlife officials want to bring in about 1,000 more.

        “We want people to realize these animals are going to be hunted,” Mr. Gassett said. “Another reason for the hunt, we want to raise money for the state's elk restoration project.”

        Winston Meade of Whitesburg said people are excited about the possibility of taking part in the state's first elk hunt.

        “I'm going to fill out an application for it,” said Mr. Meade, who recently returned empty-handed from an elk hunting trip to Colorado. “I've heard estimates that possibly 100,000 people might apply. So a person's chances of getting to hunt are not good.”

        The applications, called elk drawing permits, are available at locations where hunting licenses are sold. In addition, they'll be available to out-of-state residents by telephone and on the Internet beginning in January.

        “We're just now getting rolling on that,” Mr. Gassett said.

        Other Southern states are also involved in elk reintroduction. Arkansas, with an established herd, held its third annual elk hunt this year. Tennessee recently released 75 elk in the eastern part of that state — 25 of them in the Smoky Mountains National Park.

        Not everyone is supportive of the plan to hunt Kentucky's elk.

        Jeane Hensley, who often sees elk alongside U.S. 23 near Prestonsburg, said she doesn't want to see the animals shot.

        “We drive by and watch them grazing on the side of the hill,” she said. “I think they're gorgeous.”

        The names of 10 hunters will be drawn. Two other slots will be auctioned to members of the Shikar Safari Club International, a conservation group in Idaho that donated $200,000 to the Kentucky's restocking program, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Montana- based group that has contributed $1 million for the program.

        The hunt will be held on the Addington Enterprises Wildlife Management Area near Hazard, where about 300 of the elk live.

        A representative from the Animal Protection Institute said Thursday that its members also will enter the drawing for the hunt.

        “If we win, we will be there taking up space and be legally on the premises,” said Don Barnes, a representative for the California-based group.

        “Obviously, we're completely opposed to killing other animals, particularly animals that have been restored in an environment and are probably not yet able to use their natural wiles to stay away from human beings.”


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