Thursday, May 16, 2013


    In May of 2012, the VDGIF and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation partnered to pioneer an elk restoration program, making the first of many planned releases in Southwestern Virginia.  Now, a year later, another delivery is scheduled to arrive in the state.

    After a thorough health exam at the Kentucky transfer site, the original 18 elk brought to the state in 2012 were fitted with GPS telemetry collars and released at a reclaimed strip mine site in Buchanan County, near Vansant, Virginia.  By September of the same year, four calves had been born, and the monitored population of elk grew to 22.
    As the second installment of what is to be several relocation efforts, another batch of elk are currently in quarantine in Kentucky, awaiting a second round of disease testing.  VDGIF Terrestrial Wildlife Biologist, Allen Boynton, expects to begin moving the animals to the Buchanan release site by the end of May.
    Though elk are making headlines today, the notion of a restoration effort is not foreign to Virginians.  The eastern woodlands elk was a species native to Virginia, and much of the surrounding area, until around the time of the Civil War.  The last recorded elk harvest in Virginia came from Clarke County in the mid-1800s.  Since then, two independent releases have been made in Giles and Bland Counties, attempting to reestablish the species to Virginia’s Appalachian Slope; but by the 1960s, the herds were obsolete.

    The restoration cause gained headway in the state department once again in the 1990s, and boiled on the backburner until a motion was finally passed in 2010 to develop a management program aimed at reintroducing the native animals.

    Coincidentally, 2010 was a significant year for cervids in Virginia for another reason, too.  The discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in western Frederick County made wildlife disease a chief concern of the game department and those outlining the program.  This concern was elevated when the lineage of the Kentucky elk was found to be already tainted by CWD; for Kentuckians too suffered the loss of their native elk herd, and acquired animals from an area in Kansas known to be contaminated with CWD for their own restoration efforts.

    Thus, elk captured in Kentucky for relocation remain in quarantine on site for several weeks to undergo disease testing before being introduced to Virginia’s ecological system.

    Once the disease barriers were worked out, biologists finished the pilot program, and marked 2012 as the initiation.  Several individual relocations totaling about 75 elk were proposed, hoping that this number would reproduce naturally to a goal of 400.

    Currently, the 18 animals—16 of which are adults; two are calves—are alive and well, and reside within three miles of the release site.  With good fortune, the 11 cows will all fatten up and show signs of pregnancy within the month; and with the arrival of another batch of transplants, we can hopefully expect the population to grow significantly into the fall.

    The course of future actions is founded strongly in public opinion, so contact the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for details on public comment periods, elk management issues, or to view the specific plan outlined for the future of the restoration project.  Visit the RMEF’s website,, to learn how to donate, support, or volunteer for the local cause.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Where did you get that picture. I took it. Also, I have not given permission to use it. That is a picture of an elk in KY not VA. I am a professor at UVAWise.