Farmers: Closing elk hunting would put farms, drivers at risk

virginia-newA proposal by the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries to close the elk hunting season in 31 counties west of the Blue Ridge is cause for concern among farmers.

In 2012, the game department re-established about 75 elk in Buchanan County, and elk hunting was prohibited in Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties. Closing the elk season in the Blue Ridge would add those counties to the state’s Elk Management Area.

“I’m distressed to see this proposal,” said Emily Edmondson, a Tazewell County cattle producer and member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors. She represents Farm Bureau producer members in Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Tazewell and Wise counties on the board.

“The damage elk can do to crops and fences and infrastructure on farms is concerning to me,” Edmondson said. “The diseases that they carry can affect our livestock and cattle populations too.”

Chronic wasting disease, tuberculosis and brucellosis are among diseases that can accompany a re-established elk population.

Edmondson said she understands that Buchanan County wanted elk and respects their decision, but she noted that the animals could have an impact on surrounding counties that did not want them reintroduced.

“This proposal is in effect saying, ‘We don’t care what you say. We aren’t going to allow you to hunt elk.’ The elk are going to breed and grow, and essentially we won’t be able to do anything about it. I object to this.”

Edmondson said she also is concerned about the potential for damage to vehicles that hit elk on roadways. “These are 800- to 1,000-pound animals. I’m concerned that people will be hurt or killed. Elk can’t read. They don’t know they aren’t supposed to be in certain places.”

Currently hunters with a valid deer tag may hunt elk anywhere in the state except in the Elk Management Area. That hunting policy was established primarily to limit the risk of reintroduced elk—or deer—transmitting diseases to agricultural livestock and the white-tailed deer population.

The public can submit comments about the proposal to VDGIF between April 8 and May 22 at dgif.virginia.gov.

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