- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2001

When Virginia hunters pull out their weapons this fall, they will have a new animal to go after elk for the first time in more than four decades.
However, state game officials said hunters likely will have to go to the far southwest part of the state to find any of the animals, which weigh from 600 to 900 pounds.
"Elk will be pretty much limited to Buchanan and Dickenson counties," said Bob Duncan, wildlife division director of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
The few elk in Virginia have strayed across borders from Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee, where restocking programs have been ongoing. The last time Virginia had an elk-hunting season was in 1960.
Mr. Duncan said the primary reason for allowing elk to be hunted in Virginia is to prevent disease.
"We have some legitimate concerns here, and one disease we're worried about is chronic-wasting disease," he said.
The disorder is similar to mad cow disease and is now a problem in the elk populations in some parts of Colorado and Wyoming. If introduced into Virginia, officials fear it could spread to white-tailed deer herds and domestic cattle.
Kentucky, which began restocking efforts in the fall of 1997, has imported animals from Rocky Mountain herds. Tennessee has drawn primarily from Canada.
Mr. Duncan said there have been virtually no complaints from farmers in southwest Virginia about crop damage by elk, but he added, "We want to stay ahead of the curve."
Kentucky has imported more than 1,000 elk, and that state's population is now estimated to be about 1,400 animals.
"At least one of these elk managed to get all the way to Scott County some 50 miles from the state line," state biologist Allen Boynton said. "Elk really travel."
Mr. Boynton said one elk was killed and checked in southwest Virginia last winter. There were reports that two others may have been shot. Although there were no specific regulations dealing with elk in last season's hunting manual, the animals were legal and classed with deer.
This season, the guide that hunters receive when buying their licenses has a special section dealing with elk.
Hunting restrictions for elk are basically the same as for deer with one exception hunters may dismember elk to remove them from the woods as long as they do not destroy evidence of the animal's sex.
Kentucky will begin harvesting elk this season on a special permit basis. Only 12 animals will be taken.
Mr. Duncan said Virginia is considering a restocking program, but no decision will be made until more research is conducted.
"We want to go into any such program with our eyes wide open," he said.
Virginia attempted a restocking program in 1917, importing 300 elk from Yellowstone National Park. Crop damage was so great that a hunting season was opened in 1922.
The state imported another 56 elk in 1935. One herd was placed in Bland County and the other near Bedford and the Peaks of Otter. Both were virtually wiped out by the 1960s, and the last elk was shot in 1970 in Botetourt County.
One species of elk was native to Virginia. The animals were prominent west of the Blue Ridge Mountains until the early 1800s. The last native elk was killed in Clarke County in 1855.
Elk of either sex may be taken during the regular firearms season that begins Nov. 19 and also during archery and muzzle-loading seasons. They should be tagged with deer stamps from a big game hunting license.

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