With a growing elk population, North Carolina will join Kentucky and Tennessee in the Southeast with an elk hunting season. Permit -only hunting in the mountains was approved Thursday by the Wildlife Resources Commission.
The commission has no timetable for beginning an Oct. 1- Nov. 1 season on lands bordering Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where elk can be found, spokeswoman Margaret Martin said. A season is not likely in 2016.
Biologists for the commission, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the park first must determine how many animals could be taken sustainably each year. The total population is estimated at 150-200. Hunting isn’t allowed in the park.
Tennessee, with 400 elk on game lands northwest of Knoxville, last year allowed a harvest of six bulls. Permits drawn by lottery drew 9,285 applicants.
The wildlife commission, meeting in Raleigh, turned down a proposed alligator hunting season along the coast but directed the staff to look into limited hunting of locally abundant populations of nuisance gators.
A gator season drew opposition from 41 percent of people responding at public hearings last month and from eight groups that include the N.C. Wildlife Federation and the commission’s own Nongame Wildlife Advisory Committee.
An N.C. State University study last year concluded that hunting could reduce the population by removing females, which, at alligators’ northern limit, take twice as long to mature and reproduce as do gators in Louisiana.
The commission also put a limit on possessing blue catfish in Charlotte-area lakes Tillery, Mountain Island and Wylie to one fish per day greater than 32 inches beginning Aug. 1. The limit already applies to Badin Lake and Lake Norman. The restriction would affect catfishing tournaments that have three -fish limits, with anglers often catching blues in the 36- inch range each or more.
North Carolina’s elk herd began with a reintroduction of 52 elk in 2001-2002 in the Smokies park. Bulls and cows have expanded into Haywood County, including Maggie Valley.
When hunting begins, hunters will be able to stalk elk on newly acquired game lands in Maggie Valley. The non- profit Conservation Fund has lined up more than 1,300 acres in the tourist town’s mountains for elk game land and watershed protection. The land is to be conveyed to the wildlife commission.
The state’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund has provided $2.2 million plus a provisional $1.2 million to pay for the land. Other money has come from federal gun and ammo excise tax funds, private donations and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a conservation and hunting organization.