Dozens of elk rounded up in grasslands of a northern Arizona wildlife area are waiting to be trucked to a new home in West Virginia.
Wildlife officials netted 60 elk from the Raymond Wildlife Area about 30 miles southeast of Flagstaff, then used a helicopter sling to take them to a holding pen for a month-long quarantine, the Arizona Daily Sun reported .
The process aims to bring elk back to West Virginia, which hunted off the last of its native Eastern elk around the 1860s, said Stephen McDaniel, director of the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
"We're the ones that drove them out so we should be the ones to try to bring them back and re-establish them," McDaniel said.
The translocation is a welcome opportunity for Arizona wildlife managers to further conservation and help another state re-establish an elk population, said Amber Munig, big game program supervisor with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Last week was just the second time Arizona has exported its elk to other states. The first time was in the early 2000s when the state sent animals to Kentucky to help that state re-establish its population, Munig said.
West Virginia contacted Arizona about getting elk several months ago because the state's population is one of the few that are free of diseases like tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease. It's also robust enough, with sufficient reproduction rates, to support removal of some animals, Munig said.
The elk will be released in two wildlife management areas that amount to 40,000 acres. The landscape is predominantly dense woodlands and grasslands, according to West Virginia wildlife officials. McDaniel said the goal is to bring in 250 elk over the next four to five years.
"Bringing the tourist industry down into West Virginia to see the elk roaming the mountains that they once did 150 years ago. I think it's a win-win for everybody."