It was an emotional sendoff as biologists and volunteers released two dozen Roosevelt elk deep into the forest west of Harrison Lake Sunday afternoon.

The animals hadn’t been seen in the eastern Fraser Valley area for decades after being hunted to near-extinction.

“It’s another feeling, it’s a sense of relief really,” said provincial wildlife biologist Darryl Reynolds. “It’s somewhat emotional in that we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. There’s been a lot of anxiety in terms of baiting the elk.”

The Sts’ailes nation were in attendance to thank Reynolds and crew for their efforts restoring the elk population to the south coast.

“It’s a monumental day for our community and also for our ecosystem,” said band member Kelsey Charlie. “My grandfather hunted elk, my dad got to see the elk when he was growing up, and we’ve never had the opportunity to do that.”

The animals were relocated from Sechelt, where their strong numbers make them somewhat of a nuisance for locals.

“There are elk that frequent the highways as well as people’s backyards, so what we’re doing is managing that population,” Reynolds said.

A program to relocate the Sechelt elk began in 2000 and Reynolds said the animals have been successfully adapting to their new mainland homes.

They’re expected to reproduce quickly, helping to maintain opportunities for First Nations hunters and guides in the Eastern Fraser Valley.

Elk hunting is not permitted in the area currently.

Researchers have fitted a handful of the elk with high-tech collars that will report their movements, giving a window into the creature’s lives.

Hunting the animals is prohibited in the area, and is only allowed on a limited basis in other areas.

More than 500 elk have been moved to nearly 30 release sites on the south coast, according to Reynolds.

Since the turn of the last century, their population of hundreds of millions has fallen to just over 100,000 elk in North America.