I think I’ve developed a fascination of sorts with the elk herd.

Before relocating to the area, I had only visited Benezette a handful of times. In the last six months, we’ve made three trips with more planned to see the difference in scenery as seasons change.

Feeding into this new hobby, the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, Elk Country Visitors Center and Women Who Care of the Elk County Community Foundation partnered to host a Zoom presentation about Pennsylvania’s elk.

Intrigued to learn more — and perhaps write about the experience — I decided to join the call last week. As it turns out, it was an hour well spent.

Ben Porkolab, conservation education coordinator for Keystone Elk Country Alliance, led the discussion, sharing a wealth of information. The program, known as distance learning, is conducted for students of all ages, with Porkolab recently presenting to grade-school children and a nursing home.

I have no idea the ages of others on our call, but it grabbed the attention of this guy in his mid-30s.

I thought I would share some of my main takeaways in this piece, with all information credited to Porkolab. I apologize if you already know these, please just humor this elk novice.

  • Through hunting, elk became extinct in Pennsylvania around the 1860s. The original elk in the state were known as eastern elk.
  • The Pennsylvania Game Commission decided to reintroduce elk to the state in 1913 by heading west and live-trapping Rocky Mountain elk. The commission brought back 177 elk and released them in various parts of the state, but later sustained best in Elk County.
  • According to a graphic, the Pennsylvania herd was at 515 elk in 2008. The herd reportedly grew to 1,100 in 2019 and is estimated around 1,500 elk today.
  • In the winter, when food resources are diminished, elk use their lower front teeth to scrape and eat bark off trees. Although elk have no top front teeth, their top two canine teeth are made of ivory — a very rare trait.
  • Males, or bulls, shed their antlers each year. As soon as they shed, bulls begin regrowing antlers, normally in March or April. Elk antlers can grow as much as 1 inch per day.
  • One bull elk can breed up to 50-55 females in a single mating season.
  • Females, or cows, live an average of 14-16 years while bulls live an average of 10-12 years. Scientists believe the difference can be linked to the toll the rut — or mating season — takes on a bull.

Again, those were several of the things I did not know prior to last week. The presentation was equally engaging and informative, and something I’d recommend to those wishing to broaden their elk horizons.

Ultimately, as a longtime hunter of white-tailed deer, the comparisons throughout the presentation were also impressive, specifically when looking at scale and size differences.

Having the ability to view the elk in their natural surroundings is something that draws thousands to the Benezette area each fall — including myself way back when. Now, being able to essentially call “Elk Country” home gives it a new meaning.

I intend to continue expanding my currently limited elk knowledge, and last week’s presentation provided a nice launching point.

In an effort to help the mission, I decided to become a member of the Keystone Elk Country Alliance minutes after the virtual program. It’s the least I could do to help promote, manage and enhance our elk herd for generations to come.

I consider it a small price for my new hobby.

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Ben Destefan is the editor of The Courier Express in DuBois. He can be contacted at: bdestefan@thecourierexpress.com

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