Wildlife officials will introduce more elk to far Southwestern Virginia later this week to help re-establish a herd there.
Elk were a popular attraction in far Southwestern Virginia during the early 1800s but they were hunted into extinction by the time of the Civil War. The restoration effort to bring elk back is entering its third and final year. In 2012, 16 Rocky Mountain elk were brought over from Kentucky to a 12 hundred 50 square mile preserve spanning Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise Counties. Ten arrived last year. Forty five elk have been kept in a holding pen in Kentucky since January of this year and given medical checkups. They’ll be transported early Friday morning to a similar pen in Vansant, Buchanan County. After the elk have been given about a week to adjust to their new surroundings, the gate will be opened and they’ll have free roam of the area. The reintroduction plan was controversial when it was announced several years ago. Opponents said elk would damage their crops. But Boynton says that hasn’t happened. “We haven’t seen any substantial damage and none from the elk that we have released in the elk restoration area.” The elk wear ear tags and are fitted with GPS tracking collars to monitor their health and determine how the herd is growing. Proponents of the program look ahead to the time they can bag an elk but Boynton says that could be a few years off. He hopes to have a herd of about 400 in eight or 10 years. “We could probably start hunting bull elk before we reach that 400 number. That will not affect population growth. But as far as hunting of cows, we will be much more conservative with that.” The final cost of the project will be around one million dollars and Boynton says conservation groups and businesses have already donated about half that amount.