Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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August 31, 2013

Officials: Please do not feed the elk, deer

GRUNDY, Va. — A new law will mean a possible $500 fine for anyone caught feeding elk in three Southwest Virginia counties.

Effective Sept. 1, it will be illegal to feed elk in Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties where the elk restoration project is ongoing. September also begins the prohibition of feeding deer during hunting season in the rest of the Commonwealth, which runs through the first Saturday in January.

Matt Knox, a deer project leader with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said the prohibition on feeding elk was passed to discourage tourists from encouraging destruction behavior in the animals. Knox said feeding elk in any of the three counties or feeding deer during hunting season is a class three misdemeanor punishable by up to $500 in fines.

“The elk ban is to protect those three counties,” Knox said. “A lot of people want to feed the elk. We don’t want to create a culture of feeding the elk because it is a dangerous thing to do. Feeding the elk could make them tame and put the entire elk restoration effort at risk.”

Knox said what has happened to the elk living in Yellowstone National Park exemplifies how feeding elk can cause issues.

“In Yellowstone there is a lot of diseases spread among the elk herd,” he said. “They have been feeding the elk in the Jackson Hole area for decades and that feeding of the elk has contributed to those unusually high disease rates. The elk that are fed in Yellowstone are ten times more likely to get a disease than in another areas.”

Knox said these diseases can spread not only throughout elk herds but be transmitted to deer and cattle as well.

“Brucellosis is the disease that is common in Yellowstone,” he said. “Another is bovine tuberculosis, but neither of those are prominent around here. Bovine tuberculosis is widespread in Michigan. Chronic wasting disease, however, has become prominent in deer populations in Northern Virginia. There is no treatment and no test for that disease, but it spreads laterally from deer to elk. We don’t want feeding elk to create circumstances that would prompt the spread of disease, especially since that disease is not here yet.”

Other issues feeding elk and deer can include overpopulation, destruction of habitat and danger to humans,

“There is also a lot of good habitat for the elk in those counties, but that can lead to overpopulation which can destroy the habitat for deer and elk,” Knox said. “Additionally, feeding these animals makes them tame which makes them lose their fear of people. If they are fed near a roadway, it may create a situation that leads to more vehicle versus deer or elk collisions. It may also make these animals more likely to inflict harm on humans.”

Knox said the rule is not meant to punish accidental feeders, like those who may find an elk or deer eating out of their garden, but rather those who are intentionally feeding the creatures.

“We have had complaints about bird feeders attracting deer,” Knox said. “We usually just issue a warning in that case and advise the people to change either the type of feeder they are using, where it is located or whatever needs to be done so it will feed only the birds. We aren’t going to cite someone if their intent isn’t to feed deer or elk. It is also illegal to use bait to hunt deer so we do fine those who try to feed these animals for the purpose of hunting them.”

Knox said if anyone sees or suspects someone of illegal feeding or observes any wildlife concerns it can be reported to the DGIF’s Wildlife Crime Line at 800-237-5712.

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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