Several months ago the Missouri Conservation Department announced its approval of a plan to import elk. I was opposed to the idea then. I am still opposed.
My biggest concern -- and I think it is a concern shared by many Missourians -- is the potential damage, injury and loss of human life that could result. We all know someone who has been in a serious accident involving a deer and an automobile. We see the splattered remains along the highway and wonder how much damage was done to the vehicles involved. We wonder if anyone was injured or killed.
The elk is much larger than the deer that run across highways in Missouri. Much, much larger. Hitting an elk with your family sedan or SUV would result in a proportionate increase in overall damage.
That worries me. And it should worry you.
But it doesn't seem to worry the Missouri Department of Conservation or those men and women who serve on its commission.
Instead, the department takes the position that elk are native to Missouri, and restoring an elk population in sparsely populated Carter, Reynolds and Shannon counties would pose little hazard to humans.
I know that part of the state well. I grew up next door to those counties. Let me tell you that slamming into an elk at 55 mph in Shannon County doesn't hurt any less than crashing into an elk on Interstate 55 in Cape Girardeau County.
The Department of Conservation believes that bringing elk back to Missouri will somehow benefit the natural balance of our part of the world. I think this rationale is goofy. And here's why.
The department, for years, pooh-poohed reports of mountain lions that roam our state. I've seen them. So have hundreds of others. But the department, the official arbiter of such claims, wouldn't accept those eyewitness accounts; it wanted its agents to see the elusive cats before admitting the animals existed here. It took a long time, but the Department of Conservation now agrees they're here.
But are they here in numbers proportionate to the proposed herd of elk soon to be released in our state? When elk were here before, there were predators that kept them in check. Can we expect the Department of Conservation to regulate elk hunting in such a way that the big animals won't get out of control? Like the wild horses and the feral pigs that roam the same neck of the woods?
What amuses me about the department's efforts to "balance" nature is the fact that such attempts only address a portion of that balance, not all of it. It's like "restoring" a historic house by installing electricity, modern heating and air conditioning and indoor toilets.
Recently a member of the Missouri House of Representatives introduced a bill that would require the Department of Conservation to "own" any of the elk it brings into the state. One aim of such legislation is to make the department financially responsible for any damages arising from the animals -- including, I suppose, damages from successful civil lawsuits. I like that idea.
If we're going to bring back elk, let's find a few extra cougars too. Let's take away all hunting weapons except black-powder rifles and bows and arrows. Let's invite all the Native Americans who were forced, in one way or another, to leave our fair state to return. They could live on some of the thousands of acres the Department of Conservation owns, thanks to a special tax everyone in Missouri pays.
Bringing elk to Missouri so a few big-game hunters won't have to drive all the way to Colorado or Montana doesn't make any sense to me. Never has. Never will.
I just pray that when the first Missouri motorist dies in a crash with an elk that the Department of Conservation will have the decency to rethink its "balance of nature" argument.
Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.