Public interest to restore elk in Virginia is overwhelming. Since the 1990s, residents have voiced their opinion to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) and now the department has announced that collaborative efforts with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation are set to begin this spring.
According to the executive summary of an elk management and restoration plan, elk were historically native to eastern North America, including Virginia. “However factors such as habitat loss and unregulated hunting caused elk to become extirpated within eastern North America by the late 1800s. Attempts at elk restoration in eastern states during the early to mid-1900’s often failed due to a lack of suitable habitat and knowledge of elk ecology.”
Kentucky had a very successful re-population effort throughout the 90s that increased its original elk population tenfold. Virginia will be following Kentucky’s model in restoring the elk given its startling success. The video below gives a quick history and explanation of elk population and restoration in Kentucky in the 1990s.
Original press release issued by Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation on February 22nd, 2012:
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has been officially notified that elk restoration efforts in Virginia will begin this spring.
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries officials confirmed the news to RMEF, the project’s leading financial contributor with a pledge of $300,000. RMEF leaders say they will now step up local fundraising efforts to ensure the project, once started, continues to move forward and remains on schedule.
RMEF has received numerous donations for the project, including several large gifts from Virginia donors. Still, about half of the pledged amount needs to be raised.
Plans call for relocating up to 75 elk from Kentucky to Buchanan County, Va., with an elk management area to include Dickenson and Wise counties. Biologists are hoping for a sustainable elk population that will offer recreational opportunities such as elk viewing in the short term and a limited hunting season within four or five years.
David Allen, RMEF president and CEO, said, “Elk have been trapped and are now being held in Kentucky for a required quarantine period. The animals will be monitored and tested repeatedly to assure good health. Later, they will be moved to southwest Virginia and held for a second period to allow them to adapt to their new surroundings, and then released in May.”
“We are excited about bringing elk home to Virginia,” said Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Director Bob Duncan. “And we’re excited about the opportunity to partner with RMEF—a leader in wildlife habitat conservation. RMEF’s support of our agency and our elk restoration project, not only monetarily but through technical assistance and support from RMEF members and chapters throughout Virginia, has been overwhelming. This partnership is beneficial not only to the restoration of elk in southwest Virginia but also to other wildlife species and programs in the area.”
RMEF invested more than $28,000 in 1996 for an initial elk restoration feasibility study in Virginia. Wildlife agency commissioners in 2010 voted unanimously to move forward with the project.
Kentucky’s elk herd, the largest herd east of the Rockies, was restored with financial and technical support from RMEF in the 1990s. That herd now numbers more than 10,000 animals, is a major tourism draw, offers ever-increasing hunting opportunities and is now serving as a source herd for restoration efforts in other states.
To be a part of this historic conservation effort in Virginia, join and support RMEF. Visit www.rmef.org and click “Attend an Event” to find fundraisers planned across the state. For additional information, call 800-CALL ELK or contact Chris Croy, RMEF regional director for Virginia, at 704-551-6223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Chuck Martin