January 4, 2003
The Journal Star (Peoria, IL)
By Elaine Hopkins

LEWISTOWN - The shooting of elk in pens on property now owned by The Nature Conservancy has drawn the ire of a Chicago-area animal-rights group.

"We're going to turn attention to The Nature Conservancy policies of allowing canned hunts or any kind of hunting on its land. That is the antithesis of nature conservancy," said Steve Hindi, founder of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK).

The owner of the elk, Kevin Williams of Breeds, near Canton, denied any abuse. He said the elk are livestock, not big game, and are being sold and slaughtered for their meat.

"They are being put down professionally and humanely," Williams said. "It's not a game preserve. Not one animal has been hunted on that farm."

About 400 elk are in pens of various sizes on 200 acres bought by The Nature Conservancy in 2000 but leased back to Maurice Wilder, who sold the elk to Williams.

The lease was part of the conservation group's $18 million purchase of the 7,500-acre Wilder Farm property, said Doug Blodgett, who works out of the Conservancy's office on Wilder Farm, now known as Emiquon.

The lease allows Wilder to continue his commercial elk operation through 2009, Blodgett said, adding, "It was a condition of our purchase. We're legally obligated to honor that lease."

But Hindi, who also has protested in Springfield against the alleged mistreatment of high school rodeo animals, said his group has videotaped elk abuse at the property, and its members plan to return this weekend to investigate further. The Nature Conservancy "did know about this for a long time and allowed it," he said.

Tammany Droll, who lives with her husband, Chad, on Wilder Farm next to the elk pens, said that until the elk were sold to Williams in November, the operation was a breeding ranch without slaughter. Her husband worked at the elk operation but was laid off when the sale occurred.

Williams has turned the place into "a miniature canned hunting" situation, Droll said. "He lets people go into the fences in big or small areas, pick out an elk and shoot it."

Williams acknowledged that people shooting the 500-pound animals are hunters who also may want the heads as trophies.

"An animal like that with a beautiful head mount - why throw it in the ditch?" he asked.

Elk are not considered wild game in Illinois because they do not live in the wild here, said Tim Schweizer of the state Department of Natural Resources. Instead, they are considered livestock.

Williams can legally sell an elk to someone who can then shoot it for personal consumption, said Jeff Squibb of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Squibb said the live elk cannot be moved off the farm without a permit, as part of the state's effort to control the spread of chronic wasting disease.

The herd has been tested for CWD, Squibb said, and none has been found there.

The situation "is absolutely canned hunting," Hindi said. "The guys are in camouflage. The elk are tame."

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