A handful of Boxley Valley farmers are advocating for a hunt to abate nuisance allegations concerning the elk herd. At this time, it appears that the AGFC is in agreement with them, and plans for a Boxley Valley elk hunt are being considered. The stated goal is to drive the elk back into the wild from Boxley Valley. If this plan succeeds, it will destroy elk tourism, and along with it, the regional tourism economy. This plan has been drawn up in the deepest recession in memory, it is a terrible idea. We simply cannot afford the economic losses.
There is time to stop this hunt, and help AGFC understand that our Arkansas elk herd is a cash cow from a wildlife watching perspective. The evidence is clear to anyone close to elk watching tourism that it has great economic importance to the state, it might be the #1 wildlife watching attraction. In view of the very small size of the elk herd, 450 animals, elk watching and photography is probably the very most important public payoff associated with the elk herd. Elk watching should be the 80% emphasis of AGFC elk programs, not elk hunting which is extremely limited due to the small herd, and offers no significant economic benefit comparatively.
There is plenty of evidence to support the view that elk watching pays far more dividends than elk hunting. The arkansaswildlifephotography.com website has grown 100% year over year, and in the last year attracted 15,000 wildlife watchers from all 50 states and 33 foreign countries. The Ponca Elk Education Center draws more traffic than all other AGFC education centers combined, and it has experienced strong year over year increases. This tourism traffic comes from all over Arkansas and virtually every state in the union.
We need now to act to re-balance the elk management program to elk watching rather than elk hunting. Common sense indicates that if you only have 450 animals, you are not seriously in the elk hunting game, that is a future objective. If you have excess elk anywhere, they should be re-located, not killed, to build more viewing resources, with the thought of eventually expanding the herd to have an expanded hunt.
There is reason to suspect the complaints of the farmers are exaggerated and largely history. Many of the problems no longer exist because a food plot at the intersection of highways 43 and 21 moved the elk herd south two years ago. Problems listed by the farmers in the hearing included fence damage, tourism, and food competition. Since the food plot was created, the elk no longer range the valley as they once did. The 30-50 typical resident elk are pretty much parked in the food plot now. This is also the 90%+ viewing area, so the tourism complaints have little to do with other parts of the valley.
Certainly one could not complain about elk in a food plot created to attract elk. That would be pretty over-the-top.
If there are excess elk, they should be relocated to establish larger herds elsewhere, not killed. Arkansas needs more elk, not fewer elk. Relocation is the only sensible option because it offers the prospect of expanding elk watching tourism in areas like the Gene Rush WMA. If we could create one more Boxley Valley class viewing venue, it would depressurize Boxley Valley, and cement Arkansas' standing as the #1 elk viewing destination in the south, greatly expanding revenues to the state.
We need to act now to head off this ill conceived plan. I don't believe the AGFC understands the magnitude of elk watching tourism. If it did, and it expanded on the economic power of this attraction, it would have a still higher standing in state government. Done right, elk watching revenues alone could pay for the entire AGFC budget. If I were the AGFC director, elk management would be moved and become the centerpiece of its wildlife watching programs. It is hardly mentioned there now, a huge missed opportunity.
How to Stop the Proposed Boxley Valley Elk Hunt
Write Cory Gray at email@example.com to express your opposition to a Boxley Valley elk hunt. This must be done as soon as possible. His phone number is 877-367-3559. If you would, please cc: firstname.lastname@example.org so we can track emails to AGFC on this issue. We must act now, the future of elk tourism is in the balance. Comment closes by the 15th.
If you don't act, we could lose Boxley Valley elk viewing and photography. The time is now.