Yes Virginia, We Have Elk! – The Next Chapter
By Caroline “Tinker” Frazier, Virginia State Chair
With the pages of the latest chapter in the story of elk in Virginia still freshly inked, RMEF volunteers are helping the next chapter unfold.
The Eastern elk subspecies once roamed the Old Dominion but was extirpated in the mid-1800s. In 1917, the state reintroduced 150 Rocky Mountain elk from Yellowstone National Park. From these a few small wild herds persisted until about 1970.
With little hope of their imminent return, dedicated volunteers established RMEF chapters in Virginia to help support elk habitat in other states. Ever since the Old Dominion Chapter launched more than 20 years ago, our volunteers have supported and promoted RMEF’s mission and kept alive the vision of elk returning to Virginia.
In 1997, RMEF partnered with Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to restore elk to the southeast corner of the state, and some of these elk followed their noses over the border to Virginia’s reclaimed coal strip mines. We had elk again—sort of.
Virginia RMEF volunteers kept hoping that the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) would someday embrace elk restoration in the state. In August 2009, our dream began to take shape when board chairman Charles Yates instructed VDGIF staff to draft an elk management plan for a sustainable, huntable elk population in Virginia.
The future of Virginia’s elk rests on the outcome of the VDGIF’s management plan and its review at their board meeting in April. All of the players—state agencies, conservation groups and agricultural interests—are meeting at the table to weigh in on the plan, and RMEF and its volunteers are poised to partner with VDGIF in its elk restoration efforts if we get the opportunity.
Our long-awaited dream of elk roaming as they once did amongst the backdrop of apple blossoms in the Shenandoah Valley, the misty mountains of the Blue Ridge and wonder of the Natural Bridge just might yet come true.