Maryland --(Ammoland.com)- Historically, herds of elk roamed across most of the United States and Canada, but the Eastern elk – the only subspecies found east of the Mississippi River – was extirpated in the 19th century.
The first efforts to restore a sustainable population in the east occurred in 1913 when Rocky Mountain elk from Yellowstone National Park were released into 10 counties in Pennsylvania. More recently, successful reintroduction efforts of Rocky Mountain elk to eastern habitats have occurred in Kentucky (1996), Tennessee (2000), North Carolina (2001), and Virginia (2012), and additional reintroduction efforts in the U.S. have occurred in Wisconsin (1995) and Missouri (2012).
Similar reintroduction efforts are now being considered in Maryland.
In 2011, the Maryland Legislative Sportsmen’s Foundation (MLSF) and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) partnered with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to explore the potential for elk reintroduction in three western counties of Maryland (Garrett, Allegany, and Washington counties). RMEF provided the funding and the MLSF contracted with Responsive Management to assess the economic and social impacts of the proposed elk reintroduction. The study entailed a scientific survey, which reflected widespread support for the elk reintroduction proposal among Maryland residents as well as among residents in the three proposed elk restoration counties. The study also addressed the likely socioeconomic outcomes of the project, particularly in terms of new recreational opportunities and economic incentives made possible through the presence of elk in the western part of the state.
“As with all of our ecological programs, science and informed public input will be our guide. Consensus from our experts and all impacted stakeholders will be a prerequisite to the decision to reintroduce elk in Maryland.” ~ John Griffin, Secretary, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
For this study, Responsive Management obtained a total of 809 completed telephone interviews with Maryland residents ages 18 years and older and included more than 200 interviews with residents in the three proposed elk restoration counties (see map below). For the statewide analysis, results were weighted by geographic location to obtain accurate proportions and to ensure representative results statewide. The results are representative of all Maryland residents and are reported at a 95% confidence interval. The sampling error is at most plus or minus 3.45 percentage points. Telephones were selected as the preferred sampling medium because of the almost universal ownership of telephones among Maryland residents.
Public Awareness of and Opinion on the Reintroduction of Elk in Western Maryland
The study found broad support for the proposed elk reintroduction. Despite low overall awareness about the reintroduction proposal, nearly three out of four Maryland residents (72%), and two-thirds of western Maryland residents (68%) specifically, support the reintroduction of elk into the western part of the state (see graph below). In fact, support for the reintroduction of elk was measured at both the beginning and end of the survey and remained largely unchanged even after respondents were asked to consider potential problems such as vehicle collisions, property/crop damage, disease risks, and the expense of the reintroduction, showing that 70% of Maryland residents remain in support of elk restoration.
MD Elk Support
The most common reason among Maryland residents for supporting elk reintroduction was that elk have a right to live in Maryland and belong there as a native species (38% of those who support reintroduction gave this reason), followed by the support for biodiversity and healthy animal populations in general (17%), enjoyment of seeing animals and having different types of wildlife around (13%), no particular reason to oppose the reintroduction (12%), and new hunting opportunities afforded through the reintroduction (11%) (see graph below).
MD Elk Reasons
Among the 14% of Maryland residents who oppose reintroduction, the most common reasons include the opinion that the state is overpopulated with deer and/or does not have enough habitat to support elk (28% of those who oppose reintroduction gave this reason); concern about the potential for car accidents, property damage, or damage to crops from elk (26%); and the opinion that reintroduction of elk is unnecessary (26%).
Respondents were also asked about their level of concern regarding six issues related to elk reintroduction. Although support for reintroduction is high, more than a third of Maryland residents are concerned that they could have a vehicle collision with an elk (38% said they were very concerned about this) and that elk could carry disease, which could impact other wildlife like white-tailed deer (37%). Other items about which at least a fifth of respondents said they were very concerned included the expense of reintroducing elk into western Maryland (31%), that elk might damage agricultural crops (26%), and that reintroducing elk might limit the resources available to manage other wildlife in Maryland (22%). Finally, only a small percentage of residents (12%) said they were very concerned about encountering an elk in the wild. (See graph below.)
MD Elk Concern
Most Garrett, Allegany, and Washington County landowners (69%) said they were not concerned at all about elk being a nuisance or causing problems on their property in western Maryland; otherwise, 27% said they were concerned, with 11% being very concerned. About a third of landowners in potential reintroduction counties (34%) believed that, as property owners, there would be benefits to having elk in western Maryland; the most commonly named benefits are the ability to hunt and/or eat elk (69% of landowners who believe there would be benefits cited this as a potential benefit), the potential to view elk (23%), and a general positive influence on property values (9%).
Finally, 75% of residents indicate that the economic benefits of having elk in western Maryland are very or somewhat important in the decison-making process regarding elk reintroduction (see graph below). Related to the economic benefits, slightly more than half of the residents surveyed statewide said they would be likely to take a trip to view elk in Maryland, and about the same proportion of hunters in the sample said they were likely to hunt elk given a healthy enough population.
MD Elk Economic
Economic Impact Study
The study also included an independent economic impact study provided by Responsive Management. Researchers utilized related data from states that have restored elk populations such as Pennsylvania and Kentucky, as well as data analyzed by Southwick Associates. The likely economic impacts of reintroducing elk to western Maryland are significant: elk-related outings and tourism expenditures could generate $3,088,184 in tourism dollars annually from Maryland residents. Based on wildlife-viewing economic impact data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, out-of-state visitors could spend an additional $1,111,746 in tourism dollars to view elk in western Maryland. As in other rural counties where elk have been reintroduced, the potential gain in tourism revenue, tax dollars, and employment opportunities suggests a substantial localized economic impact.
In Maryland, tourism is currently a vital industry. In 2011, visitors to the state spent a total of $14.3 billion, a figure that includes expenditures in several major categories that would be associated with elk-related outings, including transportation, food and beverage, and lodging. Furthermore, tourism visitation is also responsible for 131,686 full-time jobs and $4.7 billion in wages and salaries. The potential to attract elk-viewing tourists among both residents and non-residents could be enhanced with targeted marketing and promotions, as well as developed facilities, such as an elk-related visitor center, elk viewing platforms, and developed tour routes.
In addition to a full economic impact study report, a fact sheet summarizing the economic impact study was also developed for public informational use.
Sharing the Results and Providing Information
Survey results were publicized initially through a press release, which drew coverage from local media and hunting-related websites, as well as newspapers and national television station affiliates in metropolitan areas several hundred miles away. Although a majority of Maryland residents support elk reintroduction, public forums and stakeholder meetings have demonstrated the proliferation of misinformation regarding elk reintroduction.
Circulation of misinformation among affected stakeholders during the exploratory process is not atypical, according to Dave Ragantesi, RMEF Senior Regional Director. In areas like Maryland, where elk haven’t been present in living memory, education becomes a more vital component. “You’re working with people who haven’t had experience with [elk],” Ragantesi said. “Many people have never seen elk. A big part of this is letting people know what the advantages are and what the disadvantages are.”
“Many people have never seen elk. A big part of this is letting people know what the advantages are and what the disadvantages are.” ~ Dave Ragantesi, Senior Regional Director, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
One common misconception, Ragantesi says, is that “elk are large deer, because that’s all people have to compare them with.” Elk do not behave like deer, nor do they compete with deer for habitat, he explained.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is using the results of this study in conjunction with its own biological assessment and additional public input to determine whether to proceed with elk restoration at this time in Maryland. To help facilitate dissemination of information, the results of the survey of Maryland residents conducted by Responsive Management, as well as the economic impact study, continue to be publicized on the Maryland DNR website. The full report on the opinions of Maryland residents, including discussion of the survey results statewide and by region, nonparametric analyses, and crosstabulated survey responses, can also be accessed here.
Responsive Management is an internationally recognized public opinion and attitude survey research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues. Our mission is to help natural resource and outdoor recreation agencies and organizations better understand and work with their constituents, customers, and the public. For more information about Responsive Management, visit www.responsivemanagement.com.