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Could Great Smokies Elk Herd Vanish?


    Here's a curious story.
    Five years ago biologists at Great Smoky Mountains National Park  embarked down a path to restore the park's once-native elk herds. They started with 25 elk, and in 2002 added another 27. While the park's Cataloochee Valley where the elk live seems ideal, what with its meadows and forests, the park's black bears have a thing for elk and have been pretty adept at preying on elk calves. As a result, there are only about 55 elk in the park these days.

    Park officials would like to add another batch of elk, possibly 30, to their herd by purchasing animals from a Kentucky herd. However, according to a story in the Asheville Citizen-Times, a new USDA regulation could prevent the transplant. You see, in a bid to slow transmission of chronic wasting disease, a fatal ailment that afflicts deer and elk, the USDA wants private game farms to certify that their herds have been disease-free for five years before any transplants crossing state lines are approved.
    Now, it seems to me that Yellowstone has more than enough elk to go around and could ship a two or three dozen to Great Smoky. Of course, I'm not sure whether the Yellowstone herd will be exempt from that new USDA reg -- you'd think it might, since the Yellowstone herd does not really constitute a game farm. Of course, who knows how expensive it might be to ship the elk east, and we all know how strapped the Park Service is these days.

    But you'd think this would be the perfect solution for Great Smoky's declining elk herd, wouldn't you?

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