It’s official: Elk are being returned to Virginia.
Eleven of the big, beautiful animals were released into a holding pen last week at a reclaimed strip mine in Buchanan County.
They have already been tested for disease. As soon as they are acclimated, they will be turned lose into the wild.
Elk once roamed Virginia at will — as evidenced by numerous state place names involving the word “elk.” (Nearby Elkton was named after its stream, Elk Run.) But they were hunted to extinction here in the past century.
Neighboring Kentucky reintroduced elk to its Appalachian region several years ago, and the herd has grown to nearly 10,000. Some of those animals have wandered across the line into Virginia from time to time.
Charles Yates, a former member of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Board of Directors, recalled a phone call from a farmer in Russell County who had two such elk wander onto his land:
“He said, ‘Why can’t we do more to get elk into Virginia?’”
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was created to do just that.
About 75 elk eventually will be introduced. It is hoped that the herd will grow and become self-sustaining, and that it will attract wildlife enthusiasts and perhaps eventually be able to provide limited hunting.
Elk viewing that would attract wildlife tourism would be a great boon for Southwest Virginia.
And perhaps soon, the bugle of elk will again be heard along Buchanan County’s Elk Creek.