WISE—Wise County farmer Starling Fleming is one of many Virginia farmers opposed to the reintroduction of elk into the state.
"I’m opposed … because of the destruction they do to our fences, and I’m also worried about elk bringing in disease that would be transmitted over to our cattle," Fleming said.
He and other VFBF members have spoken out against the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Elk Committee’s recommendation that the game department establish a population of 1,200 elk over a 12-year period in Buchanan, Dickenson and Wise counties. The committee also wants to release 200 elk in those counties over a three-year period.
The game department is asking for public comment until Aug. 1. On Aug. 17 the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries will meet in Richmond to make a decision.
Farmers in the southwestern part of the state have expressed concern about the proposal, which could include moving elk into Virginia from other states. The animals, which are significantly larger than deer, can cause considerable damage to field crops, orchards, nurseries, fences and vehicles. They consume more than 20 pounds of forage a day and can damage trees with their antlers.
"They’re grazers. They’re not browsers, and I’m the front line to the national forest right here," said Fleming, whose 377-acre farm backs up to the Jefferson National Forest. He’s worried elk will destroy his hay fields and spread disease to his beef cattle.
The risk of disease transmittal from elk to livestock is a concern because there are no conclusive or reliable tests for tuberculosis or brucellosis for elk.
"Even if cross-contamination does not occur, the perception that a disease like tuberculosis exists in any (farm) animal will shut down markets," said Wilmer Stoneman, associate director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
The draft plan provides no detail for addressing crop damage and disease issues.
Contact Stoneman at 804-290-1024.