Virginia to Restore Elk
“How many times in a person’s life do you have a chance to make a lasting difference, one that will leave a legacy of wildlife for the future of Virginia?”
That was the question Caroline “Tinker” Frazier, RMEF Virginia state chair, challenged board members of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) to consider at their meeting on August 17, 2010.
Frazier was among a number of RMEF volunteers and staff who gathered to hear the board’s final decision on restoring elk to the commonwealth. She, along with RMEF Virginia district chair Kathy Funk, director of conservation programs Tom Toman and regional director Chris Croy all spoke passionately in favor of elk restoration, commended the department on their exhaustive work in developing an elk management plan, and pledged the RMEF’s support and expertise should they choose to bring elk back to the state. Several other individuals and organizations were opposed, citing concerns over potential property damage and disease issues.
The board voted unanimously to restore wild elk into Buchanan County, which strongly supported the concept. The state’s restoration plan calls for relocating 75 elk to southwestern Virginia with releases possibly beginning by 2012. Biologists are hoping for a sustainable elk population and a limited elk-hunting season within four years. County officials are expecting significant economic and tourism benefits similar to those in neighboring Kentucky, which launched its own restoration program more than a decade ago and now boasts more than 10,000—the largest elk herd east of the Rockies.
After the meeting, RMEF volunteers thanked the board members with heartfelt handshakes, then congratulated themselves for their hard work in bringing elk back to Virginia. According to Frazier, a few were at a total loss for words. “We were just truly grateful for the opportunity to do the right thing for the right reasons for generations to come,” she says. “What a payday this was for the dedicated Virginia RMEF volunteers who remained steadfast for so many years.”
Perhaps the decision was sweetest for Funk, whose late daughter Morgan—loved camping, hiking and the Elk Foundatio, and dreamed of seeing elk restored to Virginia one day.
RMEF responded to the news by pledging support for the effort, which could include funding assistance, technical expertise and/or volunteer labor.
“Hats off to our volunteers and the citizens of Virginia, and especially those of Buchanan County, who understand there is no higher calling in conservation than restoring a native game species to sustainable, huntable, balanced populations,” says David Allen, RMEF president and CEO.