Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

April 11, 2014

Elk relocation project: So far so good for Southwest Virginia

— — We are glad to hear that the nearly five-year-old elk restoration project for Southwest Virginia is nearing what Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries officials are calling a successful conclusion.

When the project was first announced several years ago, there was some opposition to the idea of relocating elk from Kentucky into Buchanan County. For example, some farmers in neighboring Tazewell County expressed concerns about elk carrying diseases to their livestock and damaging crops. And the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors also went on record at the time in opposition to the idea — expressing concerns that the elk would eventually cross into Tazewell County.

That hasn’t happened — at least not yet. In fact, the elk to date have stayed mostly in the original release areas, according to Allen Boyton, a regional wildlife manager with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. He says a few have traveled as far as 10 miles, but ultimately returned back with the others. None have crossed into Tazewell, or other neighboring counties. But that could still happen.

The last 40 elk are scheduled to be delivered to Buchanan County this week. Boyton said officials had originally intended to relocate about 75 elk into the mountains of Southwest Virginia, but were not able to trap as many elk this winter as originally planned. As a result, only 71 elk have been relocated from Kentucky to date to the release area.

 The purpose of the project is to restore elk to Southwest Virginia. The first herd of elk was transported from Kentucky to Buchanan County in 2012. Since that time their numbers have grown as they have acclimated to their new home. Wildlife officials say the vegetation that coal companies and natural gas companies have planted at their former sites — species of clover and grasses — has done a lot to help the elk and other wildlife.

The ultimate goal of wildlife officials is to see the now small herd grow to approximately 400 animals. Hunting of elk is currently not allowed, but could be considered in the future.

It would appear that the elk restoration process has gone as good as can be expected — at least to date. And the process is now nearing a conclusion. But it will be interesting to see what the future will bring. Will growing numbers of tourists travel to the region in hopes of viewing the elk, or will the majestic animals begin to roam — and cause headaches for farmers and property owners in neighboring counties such as Tazewell?

 Only time will tell.

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