Enforcement officers with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are investigating the reported killing of three elk on one farm in Haywood County, according to a report in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

The newspaper reported that a commission spokesman said the agency received a call from the owner of the farm about the Feb. 5 killing of the animals, which are protected from hunting.

“It is under investigation now to see if the elk were taken under depredation — when an animal is in the process of damaging crops or property, which can cause monetary loss — or if they were taken illegally,” said Lt. Sam Craft of the Commission, who said that North Carolina law allows a property owner to kill an animal in the act of depredation without a permit, but he or she cannot keep any portion of the animal..

“Landowners can apply for a depredation permit to retain the edible portion of animal,” said Craft, who added that no elk have ever been taken with a depredation permit..

An experimental herd of elk was introduced into the Cataloochee area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Parks in 2001; they were native to the park, having been wiped out in the early 1800s by overharvest. Park biologists estimate the herd inside and outside the park to be between 140 to 160 animals.

Problems between elk and people have been on an upswing in the past few years, as elk have left park property and destroyed fences, property and crops and harassed livestock belonging to neighboring landowners.

The Commission has proposed opening a restricted elk season in 2016 since population estimates indicate the herd can sustain a limited harvest. It will decide whether to proceed with the season at a Feb. 11 meeting.