RICHMOND, Va. —
Uncle Sam is taking over the care of an elk herd at a Richmond military facility.
The elk roam the grounds of the Defense Supply Center, which was established after the Department of Defense bought the property from the Bellwood family in 1941. The Defense Logistics Agency said in a news release this week that the Army officer who negotiated the deal told the family the government would care for the 11 elk on the property. Since then, Defense Supply Center employees have supported the herd with donations and proceeds from aluminum can recycling.
Gil Perkins, a Defense Logistics Agency Aviation lawyer, recently asked his staff to review the relevant law and documents related to the purchase of the Bellwood property. They determined that appropriated funds should be used to support the herd.
“The opinion was based on several rationales,” said one of the lawyers, Ed Murray. “First, historical documents demonstrate that the Army’s agreement to care for the elk was a material condition of the real estate transaction with the Bellwood family, which was contemporaneously memorialized in writing by the Army negotiator with the approval of the Army Quartermaster General.”
In memorializing the agreement, Army Lt. Col. J.W.G. Stephens wrote on July 11, 1941: “The Quartermaster General has personally approved the recommendation in basic communication that 11 live elk, now on the property, recently acquired from the Bellwood Estate be allowed to remain there indefinitely in the possession and under the care of the Government.”
In a letter to the Defense Supply Center commander 31 years later, Stephens recalled negotiating the transaction and being told the family would not sell unless the elk were assured of a good home.
“I deduced that the elk were an established element of the community and a source of much pleasure to the children of the surrounding area,” he wrote. “So right there I told them that if they would sell to the Army that the elk would be taken care of.”
Murray said the lawyers’ review also determined that care of the elk “falls within the category of general installation maintenance expenses.” Failure to maintain the herd likely would breach the provisions of DLA’s lease and could lead to prosecution for violating Virginia’s animal cruelty law, he said.
The decision means donations will no longer be accepted for the herd, which now numbers 18, and the installation’s Elk Fund Council will be abolished.