... The proposal to delist the elk was one of more than 60 proposed hunting and fishing rule changes the commission brought before nine public hearings across the state in January.
The hearing in Sylva for Western North Carolina public comment drew more than 100 people who overwhelmingly spoke out in favor of keeping the elk a protected species in the state.
Elk, a species native to North Carolina, were reintroduced to the Cataloochee area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001 with an experimental herd of 52 animals.
The herd now numbers 110 animals, which have been popular with tourists. In 2008 visitation to Cataloochee was 148,000 people, more than double from when the elk first arrived.
The idea behind the delisting proposal was to better manage the elk when they roam outside the protected boundaries of the national park and onto private property, said District 9 Commissioner Martin Lewis.
“We need a way to manage the elk who come off the park looking for food,” said Lewis, who lives in Asheville. “We need to ensure the safety of elk. We all agree we need to do something. We need to have a management plan.”