By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
TAZEWELL, Va. —
Elk who wander into Tazewell County may soon find themselves in a hunter’s cross hairs if local leaders and farmers have their way.
The county Board of Supervisors are supporting a proposal that would continue open season on elk despite a state proposal that would ban elk hunting in Southwest Virginia. The board voted 4-0 Tuesday in support of the measure with Chairman John Absher abstaining.
Eric Whitesell, president of the Tazewell County Farm Bureau, asked the supervisors to adopt a resolution supporting continued elk hunting in the area. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries announced their intention in March to put an end to elk hunting in Southwest Virginia.
Whitesell cited a newspaper article about elk causing a nuisance in a part of Kentucky where they had been introduced and said elk can cause traffic hazards, damage property, damage agricultural crops and introduce diseases to cattle.
“Their program of relocation created problem animals and their solutions didn’t work,” Whitesell said. “People had to get out their rifles and shoot these animals to get them out of town. The animals were coming into town in the wintertime and trampling people’s yards. Kentucky did move some of these elk and they moved them here. Kentucky has moved their problem into our area. We need to act as a county on this and oppose the closing of hunting season on elk.”
The department’s proposal would end all elk hunting in Tazewell, Lee, Russell and Scott counties as they border the elk restoration counties of Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise. Elk hunting is already prohibited in the elk restoration counties.
“This board quite wisely joined the boards of Scott, Lee and Russell counties opposing the reintroduction of elk,” Whitesell said. “All the boards that opposed this reintroduction did not have elk reintroduced, while the counties that did not have these resolutions had the elk reintroduced. Now they are introducing a bill that would prohibit elk hunting in the entire region.”
Whitesell said current laws allow elk hunting as part of regular deer season.
“Right now, elk can be taken in any regular deer season in any way that deer can be taken,” he said. “They are proposing closing all elk hunting in all the counties that opposed elk reintroduction. They will allow the elk to come in and establish themselves in this county.”
In addition to contacting the board of supervisors, Whitesell said the farm bureau has contacted both Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, and Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, asking for their opposition to the hunting prohibition as well.
Whitesell said the public comment period the department is holding regarding the closing of hunting season ends on May 31.
Northwestern District Supervisor Seth White said it is his understanding several hunting groups were in favor of the elk restoration as the state would offer elk hunting by special lottery as a fundraising measure.
In a statement, the department said their rationale for closing elk hunting to these counties is that hunting is a risk to the elk moving in and out of the restoration area. The department further stated they have means “other than public hunting to manage elk” including trapping, relocation, hazing exclusion and lethal removal by special hunting permit “to address persistent elk damage problems.”
A small herd of elk was released into the War Fork area near Vansant, Va. in Buchanan County in May 2012. An additional 15 elk are expected to be brought into the Buchanan County era from Kentucky later this month.
Officials with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries said the goal is to introduce approximately 75 elk into Southwest Virginia and ultimately grow the herd to 400 total.