By Clint Dalbom
As I have read the news releases of the possible elk hunting season in Missouri in coming years and all the excitement that has generated, I was taken back in my memory of another exciting time in my life that related to Missouri elk.
My life has changed considerably in the nearly 10 years since my duties with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) as the leader of Elk Trapping Crew #2.
Shortly after returning from East Kentucky I transferred to Jefferson City and spent the final four years of my career with the Missouri Department of Conservation as the Agriculture Liaison.
After retiring from MDC, I wrote a grant for Missouri State University to put conservation on the ground on MSU’s Journagan Ranch near Mountain Grove, Missouri.
I spent five years working for MSU as the Conservation Project Coordinator. During that time I went back to school and received a master’s degree in Plant Science.
I then taught conservation classes for five years at the William Darr College of Agriculture at MSU. I traveled to Brazil to study agriculture in South America.
I married my high school sweetheart and we traveled to the Philippines to work with food sustainability for orphanages with Gentle Hands Children’s Home.
We traveled to Maine and Eastern Canada, then to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Now, we have moved back home to Neosho, Missouri, where I am currently the superintendent of the city’s parks department.
But looking back, nearly 10 years to the time I traveled to Pineville, Kentucky, to lead the elk trapping effort for the Missouri Department of Conservation as Trapping Crew II Leader, there is an interesting story to tell.
The date was January 3, 2011, and I was living in Eminence, Missouri, serving as the Forest District Supervisor for MDC on the Ozark Region.
The Missouri Department of Conservation Design and Development crews had been in Eastern Kentucky all fall of 2010 building holding pens, trapping pens and making everything ready for the trapping effort that was to begin as soon as the hunting season was completed in Kentucky.
The Missouri Conservation Commission had given us our marching orders in late summer/early fall of 2010. We were to spend three years catching elk for restocking into Missouri.
We were focusing on 50 elk per year for three years, that would total 150 elk and, hopefully, that would be enough to re-establish the elk herd in the Show-Me State.
The plan was to focus the elk reintroduction in a very sparsely populated portion of the state in and around Peck Ranch Conservation Area.
The population, once established, would be managed by a limited hunting season to maintain a predetermined number of wild, free-ranging elk.
Elk had been gone from Missouri for nearly 100 years, except for a few released by Missouri DNR at Prairie State Park north of Joplin in the 1980s and a few scattered elk left from who knows what or where.
Growing up in SW Missouri on a cattle ranch my youth was filled with a fascination for stories of the frontier, wild west, gunfights, Indian wars, lost treasure, Civil War battles and many other adventures that had all happened within 30 miles or so of where I grew up.
One day my mom called to me to come in and listen to the news on one of the Joplin television stations. I came into the living room of our old farmhouse where she had the news on.
The newsman was interviewing an ancient old Osage Chief. One question he asked the old chief was, “If you could do one thing again in your life, what would it be?”
The old chief said, “I would sit again with my grandfather above the bluffs on Mt. Shira and watch the elk graze in the Elk River Valley of Southwest Missouri.”
He was then asked, “Were there elk in the Elk River Valley?”
He answered, “There were thousands of elk in the Elk River Valley.”
I could only imagine what that would have been like to see. I was very familiar with the Elk River and the beautiful Ozark country where it flows down the western slope of the Ozarks and into Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees at the Missouri/Oklahoma state line.
I had floated the tributaries of the Elk and the river itself, fishing and camping along its banks. I had climbed the high bluffs and viewed the Elk River Valley. I, too, had been above the bluffs of Mt. Shira.
What follows are my notes and pictures taken in January 2011 while in Eastern Kentucky. When I arrived there had been a trapping crew in Kentucky for a week, though nothing had gone well for them and they were still working out the details of how to trap elk.
The problem with all of this was that no one in any of the groups had ever trapped elk before. Trapping elk is not something you can go to the library and check out a book about.
It involves a lot of trial and error. These notes were written by me at the end of each day and emailed directly to Jefferson City, MDC headquarters, to keep them up to date about our progress.
ELK TRAPPING CREW #2
Clint Dalbom met Amy Bleisch at Eminence and traveled to Peck Ranch CA to familiarize her with the habitat work on the area.
Amy is a graduate student at University of Missouri. She is part of the team that will be tracking elk movements after they are released.
Trapping crew #2 — Clint Dalbom, Scott McWilliams, Dave Hasenbeck and Amy Bleisch — left Eminence, Piedmont, and West Plains at 6:00 a.m. in route for Pineville, Kentucky, and the elk trapping project.
We arrived at Pineville at 5:30 local time and got checked in to Pine Mountain State Resort Park.
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Team #2 met with the Kentucky staff and Missouri Trapping Crew #1 at the holding pen site. We also had the two veterinarians who will be helping process the captured elk.
We were shown the working facility and how it will operate. They had worked two elk in this facility and said it worked fine.
Later, Monday afternoon, we traveled to the elk trap sites and were familiarized with them. One trap is equipped with an electronic switch to close the gate, and the other has a tripwire to release the gate and close the pen.
We designed a schedule to watch the set traps 24 hours a day with teams made up of two people each.
Teams have watched the traps 24 hours a day. Elk appear to be more active at night. Elk have been viewed at both trap sites and have entered trap #1 on two occasions, but failed to trip the trap.
It has snowed on us most of the time we have been here. Between 10 and 12 p.m. tonight we experienced whiteout conditions from heavy snow.
Traps are baited with corn, sweet feed and alfalfa hay. Traps must be re-baited and snow cleared from the swinging gates frequently.
We had another crew of four from Virginia show up today to replace the ones that left. We showed them around and have included them into our trap watch schedule.
Teams continue to watch the bait sites, snow continues to fall. Mine operations have slowed due to weather.
Elk were very active at the trap sites late in the day after the weather moderated. Most of the bait placed outside the traps as lure was consumed.
Traps are being monitored 24 hours per day. When the elk left each of the sites, they were re-baited; site #1 this was 1:30 a.m., site #2 was around midnight.
Snow that had accumulated in front of and against the trap gates was removed to ensure complete closure.
After my discussions with Dan Crank, of Kentucky Game & Fish, earlier on the 12th, I made the decision to have Scott McWilliams and David Hasenbeck remove the bull elk excluders from site #2, the one with the electronic switch. This was completed at 4:30 a.m.
Trapping Crew #1, along with two D&D folks, departed today, some driving and others flying. Ron Dent, replacement trappers and D&D folks arrived today, bringing with them two vehicles.
Ron Dent was given a whirlwind tour of the sites and equipment, then back to the airport for the return flight.
Late in the afternoon several groups of elk returned to trap #2. At different times there were anywhere from 9 to 13 elk cows and calves in the trap.