Thanks in part to a $300,000 pledge from the Rocky Mountain Elk foundation, wapiti will be reintroduced to southwest Virginia.
Plans are in place to relocate up to 75 elk from Kentucky to Buchanan County. Wildlife officials hope to host a hunting season in five years. The elk have already been trapped and are being monitored to make sure they are in good health.
The Kentucky heard is the largest in the East and now has more than 10,000 animals.
“We are excited about bringing elk home to Virginia,” said Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Director Bob Duncan. “And we’re excited about the opportunity to partner with RMEF, a leader in wildlife habitat conservation.”
While this is an exciting story, it’s not the first time elk were reintroduced to the Old Dominion. Here’s a little history on elk in Virginia from the state department of game and fisheries:
“Elk were historically found throughout eastern North America, including Virginia. However, factors such as habitat loss and unregulated hunting caused elk to become extirpated within eastern North America by the late 1800s. Attempts at elk restoration in eastern states during the early to mid-1900’s often failed due to a lack of suitable habitat and knowledge of elk ecology. Of the 10 eastern states attempting elk restoration during this time, only Pennsylvania and Michigan were able to maintain elk populations. In 1916, the newly-created Virginia Game Commission authorized the importation and release of elk in 11 counties in Virginia, but most releases quickly failed. By 1926, only 2 small elk herds remained: one in the mountains of Giles and Bland counties and one in Botetourt County near Buchanan. Elk hunting seasons were held irregularly from 1922 – 1960, but by 1970, elk once again were gone from Virginia. Factors such as disease, unsustainable harvest levels, removal of crop-depredating elk, and isolation of small, unsustainable herds on limited ranges contributed to the elk’s demise. Currently, an unknown number of elk occur in Virginia having moved in to the state following their release in Kentucky during the late 1990’s. Initial attempts to capture and return elk to Kentucky proved impractical so an elk hunting season was approved to keep elk from becoming established in Virginia.”
Let’s hope this go-around is more successful.