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Print

Virginia elk plan moves forward

June 08, 2010 at 02:38 PM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - State wildlife regulators are moving forward with a draft elk management plan for three southwest Virginia counties.

The board of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries accepted the plan Tuesday. The board will not vote on the plan until an August meeting, after the public has had a chance to speak on the proposal.

The board heard limited comments before voting. Farm interests signaled their opposition to any expansion of Virginia’s small elk population.

Developed by the department’s staff, potential elk management plans range from an active restoration plan in Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties to no restoration effort.

Fifty to 100 elk already are found in those three counties and several others. They have wandered over from Kentucky, which has an active restoration program. Virginia’s native elk - a small version of the Rocky Mountain elk - were hunted into extinction more than 150 years ago.

The study committee stated its preference for a restoration plan that would transplant 200 elk over three years, growing a herd to 1,200 over 12 years. Four years into the restoration, hunting would begin for at least 10 bulls.

“Kentucky would be the logical place to get some elk,” said Bob Ellis, director of the department’s wildlife division. That state has grown its elk herd to 10,000, attracting hunters and tourists who view them on reclaimed strip mining sites.

The three Virginia counties were selected, in part, because they have fewer acres devoted to agriculture than neighboring counties.

While hunters have endorsed the expansion of elk in southwest Virginia, farmers have warned of crop damage and the spread of tuberculosis and brucellosis to domestic cattle.

Virginia’s beef cattle industry, the state’s No. 2 agricultural commodity by cash receipts, ships most of its animals to out-of-state feed lots. Infected herds must be quarantined.

Wilmer Stoneman III of the Virginia Farm Bureau said he has met with members in southwest Virginia and he said he has had difficulty moving them from a “hell no” position on elk.

“Our members would like more details,” he said, citing approaches to dealing with problem elk. “The devil’s in the details.”

Board members assured Stoneman they would continue to work with farming interests as they weigh any management plan.

“Nothing’s written in stone,” said Sherry S. Crumley, a board member from Buchanan County.

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