Clearing the timber for elk

Posted October 11, 2012 at 11:20 am

buffalo river elk 3 cc-cb.tif

Remember the column I wrote last week that discussed the Dutch Oven Cook-Off at Bull Shoals Dam? Well, the state park officials there contacted me to say they had canceled the event, apparently well before I wrote the column. They just forgot to tell me about it. Apparently it conflicted with a big Dutch Oven Cook-Off in Texas. But what I said about visiting that area in October still goes. The National Forest to the south, Blanchard Caverns, trout fishing on the White River, all that is still a good idea.

The state of Arkansas has had elk for 30 years, along the upper portions of the Buffalo River, where there are huge tracts of National Forestland mixed with private lands. Landowners say the elk damage their lands by eating so much grass and crops. They were stocked in Newton County in 1992, and today there aren’t many more than they once stocked. The herd grew to 150 or so, and the big dreams of having elk hunting in Arkansas seems a little silly now. The herd all across northwest Arkansas is thought to be between 400 and 500 animals, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission allows 50 of them to be hunted each year. How they set up that hunting season, and the prices they charge for elk permits is quite a story. It is sort of a situation where in past years they send someone out with the permit-holder and tell him where the elk is they want him to shoot. It hasn’t brought them the kind of money they hoped for.

The Missouri Department of Conservation didn’t pay any attention to that when they decided to buy multi-thousand dollar elk from Kentucky and create a herd that would have been voted down by the residents of the counties who now have them, if they had been given a choice. I think the MDC had ulterior motives. They quickly began to talk about creating elk habitat on those lands they manage in southeast Missouri. That means they can clear thousands of acres of forestland in time, and collect huge payments from the private logging companies who will get the contracts. For 20 years now, the state conservation agency has been selling off the timber in public owned wildlife management areas we all own. But no one gets a say in the cutting but the forestry division of the MDC. Billions of board feet of lumber have been sold to those private logging companies, and some forested public lands have been slashed to an ugly scar. The elk makes it possible to justify the selling of billions of more feet, converting Ozark forests to grassland to support the elk. Wildlife like flying squirrels, owls, woodpeckers and dozens of other species will not live on that converted land.

Not surprisingly, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the National Forest Service have learned from the MDC, and now they are planning the same thing, going into that beautiful forestland along the Buffalo and clear cutting it to make huge tracts of grassland for the small herd of elk. A Forest Service spokesman said basically that what local folks, and conservationists think of the idea is of no consequence, they intend to do it anyway. So bulldozers and chain saws, and large timber sales are coming to the Buffalo watershed. If you are fairly wealthy and can afford an elk tag, you might get to reap the benefits someday in one of the two states by shooting yourself an elk. And flying squirrels, owls and pileated woodpeckers, the result of standing mature forests, cannot make the Conservation agencies in either state, any money.

When elk lived in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas more than 200 years ago, they migrated over large areas, from Kansas and Oklahoma as well. There were no giant green fields of grass, the Ozarks had small prairies here and there, and forests. The small herds of elk traveled over a wide region, and were more a forest animal than anything else, as were the buffalo found here. And yes, it is the idea that big money can be made from elk that made them so attractive to our conservation agencies, but mostly it is the sale of millions of board feet of lumber which can be justified by their presence.

It makes little difference any more what the people want, it is what they want.

Incidentally, a reader of this column called to tell me that last week a bull elk was killed by a truck on Hwy. 13 south of Clinton just off the southern edge of Truman Lake. A day or so later a cow elk was sighted in the same area, near the highway. No one seems to know where they came from.

This is a great time of year to catch big bass on small lakes and rivers on topwater lures. On the streams around the Ozarks, during the week, the chaos and capsize crowd is gone, and you can find stretches of river where you can fish alone. It is the time to catch big smallmouth, and Kentuckies and largemouth too. But the real prize for an angler is the smallmouth, and when they are taken on topwater lures it is the finest of fishing to be found in the Ozarks. If you fish for them, I urge you again to release them, as their numbers decline because of the continuing deterioration of our streams, and increasing fishing pressure. I hope someday we can see regulations which allow no smallmouth to be caught, but I doubt if it happens. As I have said before, if you want to keep fish, keep the Kentuckies, or spotted bass, as they are competitors to the smallmouth and rock bass native to our Ozark rivers.

We presently have about $1,100 in our Common Sense Conservation account, and we need help in putting all the member’s names and addresses into a computer so we can actually begin sending out a periodic newsletter. I don’t think there is a thing a grass-roots conservation group can do to alter what is going on in the Missouri Department of Conservation, but they all fear the disclosure of their acts, and such a newsletter can make that possible. We have a section in my magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, which is devoted to outdoorsmen who want to tell experiences they have had. It could be an annual book, with all the corruption and underhanded dealings reported to me. The story about the agents confiscating and killing the eight-year old pet raccoon from a family in southern Missouri is just the tip of the iceberg, but it has riled up a lot of people and was picked up by other news agencies. Casting a light of truth on what they do is the only option we have, we make little difference otherwise.

If you want to join the Common Sense Conservation group, just send a name, address and phone number. And if you want to help with the newsletter we hope to someday send out, let me know. We especially need someone to take these hundreds of slips of paper with names and addresses and put them into an organized mailing list. To read more about this fledgling organization, see the November-December issue of our Lightnin’ Ridge magazine.

Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, MO. 65613 or e-mail me at My website is

BUFFALO RIVER ELK – The answer to having more elk, and perhaps selling more elk tags, is to clear hundreds of acres of National Forestland along the Buffalo River in order to put in pastureland. How much it will help the elk is debatable, but it will allow for the selling of a large amount of timber. These elk, feeding in a pasture along the Buffalo River in Arkansas have become half-tame because of the tourists who pass through. Some of them may be taken by hunters who draw one of the 50 elk tags sold each fall. After 30 years, the harvest is minimal.