Elk NetworkRestoring Elk Country – Invasive Plant Control

Restoring Elk Country | February 9, 2024

Invasive Plant Control

Kentucky is home to the largest elk population east of the Mississippi.

It’s also home to an unwanted invasion.

Past large-scale surface coal mining in the Appalachian Mountains of southeast Kentucky transformed a thick, closed-canopy forest into an estimated 750,000 acres of grasslands – ideal habitat for elk, whitetail deer, black bears, turkeys, grouse, quail and other wildlife.

However, recent research showed some two-thirds of those grasslands so critical for forage and elk calving grounds instead morphed into a thicket of Autumn Olive – a non-native, invasive shrub that overtakes and decimates grass and meadows.

Land managers noted its spread was so thick that wild turkeys could not even enter the area.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and other partners made a game plan and took action.

Over 11 months from 2022 to 2023, crews identified and targeted dozens of treatment areas encompassing more than 2,200 acres with a combination of prescribed burning and aerial herbicide application.

The work took place north of the small community of Stoney Fork on public land within the Elk Forest, Boone Forestlands and Ataya Wildlife Management Areas, Daniel Boone National Forest and scattered private lands.

The result is better grasslands and better habitat, which means improved hunting opportunity and improved overall forest health.

Future monitoring and burn rotations are planned to both maintain and improve habitat.

Restoring elk country is fundamental to RMEF’s mission of ensuring the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage.

Since 1984, RMEF helped conserve or enhance more than 8.9 million acres of wildlife habitat.