December 19, 2017

West Virginia’s Elk Have More Room To Roam In Perpetuity 

CHARLESTON, W.V.  —  Eighty years ago President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the “Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937.” In the last eight decades, more than $122 million – a legacy worth more than $217 million in today’s dollars – from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration program has gone to West Virginia, including funding for the historic creation of the state’s largest, conserved block of prime habitat for its new and growing elk population.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR), in partnership with The Conservation Fund, recently completed the protection of 32,000 acres of sustainable working forestland that provides ideal elk habitat with more than $12 million from the Wildlife Restoration Program. With up to 60 elk heading to the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area from Arizona in early 2018, this large protected landscape will help support ongoing elk reintroduction efforts for this wide-ranging species. 

“The recently acquired public lands, located within the state’s Elk Management Area of Southern West Virginia, provide outstanding, wildlife-associated recreational opportunities for our citizens,” said Gov. Jim Justice. “These working forest lands have been enrolled in the DNR’s wildlife management area system, where they will be managed to generate high quality wildlife habitat and provide tremendous hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities.”

Governor Justice noted the acquisition and protection of these lands would not have been possible without the strong partnerships that the DNR enjoys with The Conservation Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many other conservation organizations and entities.

“The conservation and management of these lands will also play an integral role in the success of DNR’s elk restoration efforts program,” Gov. Justice added. “This land acquisition effort will contribute to the state’s long-standing outdoor legacy, support the DNR’s elk restoration project and provide tremendous economic benefits to the state’s citizens.”

The Conservation Fund purchased more than 32,000 acres in Logan, Lincoln and Mingo Counties in early 2016 through its Working Forest Fund® program and sustainably managed it as working forestland during its temporary ownership. Funding from the Wildlife Restoration Program allowed for 10,922 acres to be transferred to the DNR in late 2016, and for the recent protection of an added 22,140 acres. Additional funding was provided by the West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund, Walmart and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Acres for America program, the Knobloch Family Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and dedicated wildlife funds from DNR. These lands will provide public, wildlife-associated recreation, timber jobs, and a variety of conservation benefits.

“The foresight of lawmakers 80 years ago is helping to establish a vast, protected landscape of sustainably managed land, supporting working forests and forestry-based jobs as well as increasing tourism opportunities for public hunting and other forms of wildlife-associated recreation,” said Joe Hankins, Vice President for The Conservation Fund. “Funding from the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration program is critical to West Virginia, and we are proud to partner with the DNR in this effort to create new opportunities on former mining lands and redefine conservation to provide multiple tangible economic and environmental benefits for local communities.”

“The collaboration between the DNR and The Conservation Fund has been successful in realizing the vision of the Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. Not only will this project conserve habitat critical to elk and other wildlife populations, it will also provide the public with a place to connect with nature and pass on the distinct heritage of this region by participating in fish and wildlife oriented activities,” said Colleen Sculley, Chief of the Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration Program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Additionally, this project demonstrates the economic benefits of the relationship between conservation and working forestland. Collectively, these opportunities will give back to the public who help fund Wildlife Restoration grants.”

The timber and reclaimed mine lands associated with this conservation effort are located in Lincoln, Logan and Mingo Counties. They provide ideal grassland and forest habitat for a variety of wildlife species, including elk, deer, wild turkey, golden winged warbler and grassland birds. This historic conservation effort permanently protects lands currently leased by the DNR at Big Ugly Wildlife Management Area (WMA), ensuring permanent public access and enhancing connectivity with important conservation lands in the region like Big South WMA, Tomblin WMA and Laurel Lake WMA.

“These critical land protection efforts in West Virginia, in conjunction with simultaneous elk restoration efforts, are a testament to the conservation mindset of the WVDNR,” explained Steven Dobey, Eastern Conservation Program Manager for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “RMEF is proud to partner with DNR as they strive to protect habitat for elk and other wildlife, while securing over 32,000 acres for permanent public access.”

West Virginia's United States Congressional Delegation representing Lincoln, Logan, and Mingo Counties strongly supports this conservation and economic effort made possible with funding from the congressionally authorized Wildlife Restoration Program.

“The protection of more than 32,000 acres by The Conservation Fund and the Division of Natural Resources is a healthy investment for the future of West Virginia,” said U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. “As the third most forested state in the nation it is important that we preserve the natural beauty of this region by providing sustainable working forestland for its inhabitants.”

“As West Virginians, we are so fortunate to live in a place full of natural beauty and rich with wildlife, and it is important we preserve those resources,” U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito said. “I am thrilled that – through a partnership between West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and The Conservation Fund – thousands of acres in West Virginia are now protected. I was a strong advocate for this project and am excited about the opportunities this will bring for West Virginians, as well as our tourism economy.”

“Thanks to public and private efforts, we have successfully reintroduced elk to West Virginia. Now, we are expanding their habitat and allowing more of these majestic creatures to thrive in our great state. These sustainable lands will support both jobs in the timber industry as well as protection for our growing elk population,” U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins said.

When the Wildlife Restoration Program was created 80 years ago, it became known as the Pittman–Robertson Act for its sponsors, U.S. Senator Key Pittman of Nevada and U.S. Representative Absalom Willis Robertson of Virginia. The Act allowed for money from a pre-existing federal tax on firearms and ammunition to be distributed to the States and territories for the management and restoration of wildlife.

“The 80th anniversary of the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration program is a tremendous opportunity to celebrate the conservation victories that have been made possible because of this innovative funding approach,” said Virgil Moore, President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Director of Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “This funding program has made the difference for the survival and abundance of some species, and because of it, many wildlife populations are at historically high levels today.”

Conservation of a large landscape, such as this project, for wildlife and nature-based recreation complements efforts underway to help historically coal-dependent communities across southern West Virginia transition to a diversified economy. The Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF) and the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority have partnered to help create jobs and improve quality of life through a tourism initiative in nine counties, including Lincoln, Logan and Mingo Counties. With a mix of public and private financing, the partnership will work to support and broaden local businesses around more than 600 miles of the off-highway vehicle Hatfield McCoy-Trail System, tapping into the region’s abundant natural beauty and recreational draw to develop thriving and diversified local economies.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect nearly eight million acres of land, including more than 73,000 acres of important natural resources, wildlife habitat and recreational lands in West Virginia at iconic places like Cheat Canyon and Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which supports local economies and businesses.

Ann Simonelli | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5809 |