Southwest Virginia farmers fighting elk hunting restrictions

TAZEWELL—Heated debates over reintroducing elk to Southwest Virginia have resumed in four localities this spring, prompted by a Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries proposal to prohibit any hunting of elk in Lee, Russell, Scott and Tazewell counties.

Farmers in Southwest Virginia oppose the proposal “because it’s a de facto expansion of introducing elk into the state,” said Emily Edmondson, a Tazewell County cattle producer and member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors.

“We voiced our opposition to this in 2010” when the game department decided to reintroduce elk in Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties, she said. “Our opinion hasn’t changed.”

Despite the earlier opposition from farmers in the region, the game department moved ahead with importing a small herd of elk from Kentucky for a pilot program in the three coal counties. The department also plans to bring in 24 more elk from Kentucky in May.

Farm Bureau members are urging farmers and other concerned citizens to oppose closing the hunting season for elk during the game department’s public comment period on the proposal, which runs through mid-May. Comments can be shared by mail or made online at

Edmondson said cattle producers are worried elk could expose their herds to animal diseases such as brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease. There’s also an increased risk of auto collisions in areas where elk have been reintroduced.

“We’ve been seeing large increases of elk in Eastern Kentucky, and they’re causing an increased number of auto accidents and increased damage from those accidents there,” Edmondson said. “It’s simple physics. There will be higher damage when you hit an 800-pound animal with a car or truck than when you hit a 150-pound deer. So the amount of damage and risk to drivers and passengers is multiplied when there are more elk in the area.

“If the bordering counties are set aside and hunting of elk is prohibited, it’s only a matter of time before they spread east. That will be devastating to our farmers and dangerous to all Virginia drivers.”

Contact Edmondson at 276-646-2624 or Wilmer Stoneman, VFBF associate director of governmental relations, at 804-290-1024.

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