Kentucky Elk



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Photo Credit: KDFWR

Kentucky Residents' Awareness of and Opinions on Elk Restoration and Management Efforts

In this study, conducted for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR or Department), Responsive Management examined public perceptions regarding and support for the free-ranging elk herd that has been established across the 16-county elk restoration zone in southeastern Kentucky.

Photo Credit: KDFWR

The Department, in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, established a 16-county elk restoration zone in 1997. Since the release of the first seven elk, which were captured in western Kansas
and relocated, the number of elk in Kentucky has reached the target goal of 10,000. The restoration efforts have proven so successful that the Department achieved its elk population goals 11 years ahead of schedule and translocation efforts were discontinued in 2002. Kentucky now boasts the largest free-ranging, wild elk herd east of Montana.

The study entailed a scientific telephone survey of two groups of Kentucky residents: (1) residents in the 16-county elk restoration zone and (2) residents who do not reside in the elk restoration zone. Counties included in the restoration zone are Bell, Breathitt, Clay, Floyd, Harlan, Johnson, Knott, Knox, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Martin, McCreary, Perry, Pike, and Whitley.

The researchers obtained 1,273 completed interviews. Findings are reported at a 95% confidence interval. For the entire sample of Kentucky residents ages 18 and older, the sampling error is at most plus or minus 2.75 percentage points. This means that if the survey were conducted 100 times on different samples that were selected in the same way, the findings of 95 out of the 100 surveys would fall within plus or minus 2.75 percentage points of each other.
Survey Results
The study found that a large majority of Kentucky residents (75%) have never seen elk anywhere in Kentucky. In fact, about half of Kentucky residents (51%) are not aware that free-roaming, wild elk exist in the 16-county elk restoration zone in southeastern Kentucky. Although the majority of elk restoration zone residents are aware that the Department has restored elk, it is worth noting that about a third of elk restoration zone residents (34%) are not at all aware that the Department has restored elk in southeastern Kentucky where these respondents live.

Photo Credit: KDFWR

Overall, a large majority of Kentucky residents (78%) support having free-roaming, wild elk in southeastern Kentucky, with much of that support being strong support; only 8% oppose.

The most common reason those 8% oppose having elk in southeastern Kentucky is concern about elk-vehicle accidents, followed by concern about crop or property damage. However, elk do not appear to cause problems for Kentucky residents, with only 3% of elk restoration zone residents reporting that they have experienced problems with elk in the past 5 years.

Additional findings indicate that the value of elk in Kentucky is important to residents, especially the potential impact on the economy. Large majorities of Kentucky residents rated values associated with the state's economy, the existence of elk, non-consumptive recreation related to elk, and hunting elk as very or somewhat important. Furthermore, 80% of Kentucky residents think the economic benefits of having elk in southeastern Kentucky should be important in decisions about how the elk population is managed, with 56% saying economic benefits should be very important.

Finally, while most Kentucky residents have never hunted (any species), the majority of Kentucky residents (74%) support legal, regulated hunting of elk in Kentucky, with about half (51%) strongly supporting elk hunting.

The full report, including more survey results regarding Kentucky residents' values associated with elk, opinions on elk restoration and management, opinions on and participation in elk hunting, land ownership, and problems with elk, is available here (480KB PDF).


Kentucky began its elk hunting program in 2001 with 12 tags. Now over 800 hunters per year are drawn through a lottery application system to hunt elk. In 2010, elk hunters in the Bluegrass State enjoyed a 70% overall success rate (firearms and archery combined). For more information about Kentucky's elk herd or hunts, visit


Responsive Management is an internationally recognized public opinion and attitude survey research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues. Our mission is to help natural resource and outdoor recreation agencies and organizations better understand and work with their constituents, customers, and the public. For more information about Responsive Management, visit


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