Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy

W.Va.’s elk dilemma

West Virginia’s wildlife officials aren’t especially happy to have elk roaming the state’s southern mountains, but they’ll manage the animals anyway.

Curtis Taylor, the Division of Natural Resources’ wildlife chief, said DNR biologists will gather soon to decide how best to manage any elk that currently reside within the state’s borders.

Those would include the mysterious Logan County herd that materialized, seemingly from thin air, in December 2006 between Man and Logan. Those animals were last seen in the Blair Mountain area and appear to be keeping a low profile. Individual elk have been spotted in Mingo and Wayne counties.

“Even if we don’t already have elk here, we’re going to get them as the population in eastern Kentucky increases and those animals spread out,” Taylor said.

Kentucky now boasts a population of more than 6,000 elk, the result of an aggressive stocking program begun in 1997. Most of Kentucky’s elk live in counties adjacent to West Virginia.

“They’ll eventually move here, and we’re going to have to be ready to manage them when they do,” Taylor said.

A meeting of the minds

Starting tomorrow, West Virginia’s wildlife biologists will begin two days’ worth of meetings at the Division of Natural Resources’ Elkins Operations Center. After they emerge from their meeting rooms, agency biologists will put together their proposals for this year’s big-game seasons. Look for substantial changes in bear-hunting regulations, but very few changes in deer-hunting regulations. Paul Johansen, the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief, says the proposals will be made public Feb. 24 at the Natural Resources Commission’s midwinter meeting in Charleston.

A small world indeed…

It might take me a day or so to get back up to speed about what’s happening in West Virginia. I’ve spent the past four days in Utah at the midwinter Board of Directors meeting of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.

My job there was to participate in a 4-hour Executive Committee meeting and to record the minutes for the 9-hour Board meeting. One of the trip’s perks was an opportunity to attend Outdoor Retailers Association’s winter trade show at the Salt Palace. Wow! From winter camping to ice climbing to skiing, the show was a giant toy box for outdoor lovers. Another nice perk was a gourmet dinner at the Snowbird ski resort just outside Salt Lake City. There I met Guillermo “Willie” Benegas, a mountain climber and mountaineering guide from Argentina who has reached the summit of Mt. Everest seven times. He said the most disappointing thing about climbing the world’s highest peak is that the exertion, the altitude and the weather keep most climbers from spending more than a few minutes at the top.

“After 10 or 15 minutes, you have to head down. If you don’t, you’re putting yourself in danger,” he explained.

On one magic day, however, Willie’s duties as a guide required him to make his ascent early in the morning and come down with the members of his expedition who reached the peak last.

“I got to spend 3 ½ hours up there,” he said with a grin. “It was fantastic!”

How does this relate to hunting and fishing? It doesn’t, really. But it does have a West Virginia connection.

Turns out that Willie spent nearly three months here climbing on Pendleton County’s Seneca Rocks and on the Endless Wall of Fayette County’s New River Gorge.

“I was dating a New River rafting guide at the time,” he said in his lilting Spanish accent. “She’d spend her days on the river, and I’d spend my days on the cliffs. I have good memories of West Virginia.”