A multi-year project to restore wild elk to their native hills of Virginia is complete thanks to the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, its volunteers, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and several other partners.
“This is a prime example of what can happen when good people work together,” said David Allen, RMEF president and CEO. “There is now a growing and sustainable elk herd on the ground in Virginia for the first time in more than four decades.”
The third and final group of 45 wild elk –14 bulls and 31 cows, 16 of which are pregnant– arrived in Virginia’s Buchanan County from Kentucky. They join an existing herd of approximately 30 elk previously relocated in 2012 and 2013.
Financially funded by RMEF and several major donors, RMEF volunteers also played a major role in the restoration program.
“Volunteers first got involved when approached by Buchanan County officials back in 2010,” said Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of Lands and Conservation. “They helped search for and find suitable locations in the southwest part of the state and then rolled up their sleeves and went to work in many reclaimed mining sites. Crews cleared brush, applied fertilizer and planted native grasses to improve habitat, talked to and worked with local landowners, and stepped up each time to assist wildlife officials with the actual on-the-ground elk reintroductions.”
Virginia has a goal of growing the herd to about 400 animals and eventually instituting a regulated hunting season. Proceeds from hunting permits will target elk habitat and conservation efforts.
RMEF’s project partners include the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.
RMEF completed successful elk restorations in Wisconsin in 1995, Kentucky in 1997, Tennessee in 2000, Ontario in 2001, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2002, Missouri in 2011, and Virginia in 2014. RMEF also previously funded feasibility studies in Illinois, Maryland, New York and West Virginia.