Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

January 31, 2013

Tourist attraction: Elk adjusting well to new home in Buchanan County

At first, they looked liked the deer you see across the region, but the colors and the profiles were a little off. That’s when I knew that I was seeing a photo of an elk herd.

Last year, about 16 elk caught in Kentucky were transported to a site in Buchanan County, Va., near Vansant, Leon Boyd, a local volunteer with the Southwest Virginia Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation said. After being given some time to acclimate, they were released and allowed to roam. They were also given the chance to be fruitful and multiply, and they have used the opportunity. Eight calves have been born, and they have all survived.

The project’s managers are encouraged, so there are plans to bring an additional 15 or so elk to Buchanan County this May. After being trapped in Kentucky, they are quarantined for more than 90 days and given two checkups before being shipped to Virginia. Exactly how many elk will arrive depends on how many are caught and how many pass their quarantine and health checks.

Plans call for transplanting approximately 75 elk and letting them breed until the herd reaches the 400-member mark. Hunting would be permitted before the herd reaches those numbers.

Allen Boynton, terrestrial wildlife program manager for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, told me that elk breeding habits help regulate their numbers. Elk are polygamists. This means one bull will gather a herd or harem of elk cows and breed with them. This leaves the herd with extra bulls that can be harvested without impacting the population. Hunting permits would be distributed by lottery, but don’t get too excited. Only three or four will be issued each hunting season.

I’ll understand if a lot of hunters apply for the chance to get an elk trophy. A bull elk can weigh up to 700 pounds, and the photographs I’ve seen show that an elk would be quite a trophy, especially for a hunter who is used to deer. I’m not sure what elk tastes like, but I know venison is pretty good when it’s cooked the right way.

One hope is that the elk will become tourist attractions to more people than hunters. I know I would be willing to make that drive over to Buchanan County to see live elk. They’re not wandering very far at this time. Boynton told me that elk tend to hang around an area as long as they have plenty of food and water and they are not disturbed. Elk have been wandering from Kentucky and into Virginia well before this new herd was established. Some have been sighted in places like Bland County and Tazewell County, but from what I understand, this doesn’t mean elk will be all over the place anytime soon. They breed slowly.

Right now we live alongside all kinds of wildlife. When I was attending Concord University, I saw wild turkeys and deer wandering the fringes of the Athens campus. I usually see deer every time I visit Pipestem State Park. I’ve glimpsed bears, and I remember the time when one ran through downtown Bluefield. I see hawks occasionally and one time I saw an owl in Bramwell. Once I thought about hiking among the stony ridges of East River Mountain, but the words “record-size timber rattlers” ended that idea. Elk would be just one more piece of the puzzle.

I hope this herd survives and thrives. With luck, visitors will be making stops in Buchanan County to see the elk and they will be one more reason to visit Southwest Virginia.

lll

Whether we want to hear it or not, flu is still in season. Judy Bolton, R.N., a public nurse with the Mercer County Health Department, called me Tuesday and asked if we could remind people that they still need to get a flu shot.

The number of illnesses with flu-like symptoms appear to be falling, but it’s too soon to tell whether the number of cases is actually going down or if fewer people are bothering to make a report. Across the state line in Virginia, the instances of flu remain higher than they were this same time last year.

I was vaccinated at the health department just a few weeks ago. I should be OK, but I’ve been warned that I don’t have a 100 percent guarantee that I won’t catch a flu bug. However, I’ve also been told that the bug’s bite would likely be less severe thanks to the vaccine. I’ll be less miserable for fewer days. Even more important, I’m less likely to end up in a hospital; the fact I’m diabetic would make a bout of flu even more serious.

Getting a flu vaccination doesn’t take a lot of time. I was in and out of the health department in about 15 minutes, and my insurance took care of the cost. That’s a lot less time than what I would lose if I got sick. I don’t like needles, but the injection was a lot less misery than a bout of flu.

The health department will be hosting an open house Feb. 8 at its current location, the St. Luke’s Professional Building off Route 460 in Bluefield. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., visitors will be able to see what sort of services the health department offers, and have an opportunity to take advantage one particular service — getting a flu shot.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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