Elk restoration project begins in southwestern Virginia

Grundy, Va. (AP) An elk restoration project has begun in southwest Virginia.

More than 200 spectators watched the transfer of 11 elk to a 5-acre holding pen on a reclaimed strip mine site Friday in Buchanan County. The elk will be released after becoming acclimated to their surroundings.

The effort was made possible by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

"It's real exciting,'' said Stuart Moffett, a foundation member who traveled from Staunton to watch the release. "We've been pushing this for years.''

The Roanoke Times reports the elk were captured this winter in Kentucky and had been held in quarantine while undergoing tests for disease.

They are the first of 75 elk that are expected to be brought into the county over the next three years.

The foundation has paid for nearly all of the $300,000 spent so far on materials and supplies for the restoration project.

Charles Yates, a former member of the department's board of directors, recalled receiving a phone call from a farmer in Russell County, who had two elk wander onto his land from Kentucky.

"He said, 'Why can't we do more to get elk into Virginia?"' Yates said.

Yates then traveled to Kentucky to view restoration efforts that have grown to 10,000 elk.

"Based on what I learned over there, they truly were having phenomenal success,'' Yates said.

Foundation volunteer leader Leon Boyd says he envisions a time when Buchanan County will have a modest-sized elk herd that can draw wildlife enthusiasts and perhaps even support limited hunting.

The first release was supposed to total 15 elk, but five tested positive for blue tongue disease and were left in the Kentucky holding corral.

Department officials believe the tests could be false positives and expect to bring the remaining five cows into Virginia after additional results are obtained.

Earlier in the week, test results on the herd also came back positive for brucellosis, but further tests came back negative.

Officials in Wise and Dickenson counties decided against the reintroduction of elk there over agricultural concerns.

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