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Virginia elk seem to like returning to their roots
By JANE W. GRAHAM
(Sept. 22, 2015) Elk, a species that once roamed the Virginia inspiring location names such as the stream and community of Elk Creek in Grayson County, are being brought back to the Commonwealth and so far have not caused any major problems.
Betsy Stinson, spokesperson for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said this native species, absent from Virginia for years, were reintroduced in three counties in the state’s Far Southwest in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
They were first released in Buchanan County but are protected in the three county area of Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise where no elk hunting is allowed. Elk may be hunted during deer season in the rest of the state, she indicated.
Stinson said 71 elk were originally released in Buchanan County and the herd in the three-county Buchanan Release Area is now estimated to be between 100 and 125.
She said so far the elk have remained very close to their original release sites, staying near the high mountains and reclaimed surface coal mines in the area.
She noted that prior to the release of the elk from Kentucky the animals went through an extensive disease testing and quarantine there before being brought to Virginia.
The disease testing protocol was developed in conjunction with veterinarians from three separate agencies; the USDA, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and DGIF.
All the elk were given a clean bill of health by each separate agency.
When asked, she said the testing included brucellosis and tuberculosis, two diseases which livestock producers are concerned about as they can infect cattle, she confirmed that they were.
Stinson said in the years since the elk were introduced there have only been four reports of damage by the animals and they were easily addressed.
She said that in addition to the elk reintroduced into Virginia some have wandered into the state from neighboring Kentucky.
It is believed there are 20 to 25 of these animals that immigrated naturally over a scattered area from about 1997 to 2002.
The reintroduction of elk into Virginia was authorized the DGIF Board on Aug. 17, 2010.
The motion was to establish a pilot program for the reintroduction of elk by stocking not more than 75 elk in Buchanan County only, the agency reports on its web paged.
“The goal would be to have an elk herd not to exceed 400 animals,” it dictated. “The elk management area would include Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties where elk hunting would be prohibited.”
Stinson noted the department can issue kill permits the same as for deer to farmers if elk should damage commercial operations.