Thursday, May 24, 2001

Va. declares open season on elk from Ky.

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

        PIKEVILLE, Ky. — Wildlife managers in Kentucky are upset about an initiative in Virginia that allows trespassing elk to be shot.

        Jon Gassett, forest wildlife coordinator for Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said elk living along the mountainous border will be hunted if they venture into Virginia during the fall deer season.

        “I'm pretty disappointed,” he said Wednesday. “But that's their state, and they have to manage it the way they see fit.”

        Wildlife managers in Kentucky began reintroducing elk in 1997 after a 150-year absence. Some 1,200 free-ranging elk now live in Kentucky. Most were shipped in from Utah, Arizona, Oregon, North Dakota and Kansas.

        The herd is expected to grow to about 7,400 over the next decade. The bulls weigh 600 to 800 pounds and have antlers 3 to 6 feet in length.

        Charlie Sledd, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said the decision made this month to shoot elk was based in part on fears of disease and worries that the animals would damage crops.

        “We support a friendly neighbor attitude,” he said. “It's not our intent to have an extremely detrimental effect on Kentucky's restoration program.”

        Mr. Sledd said wildlife managers don't want elk in southwestern Virginia because a feasibility study didn't find the region suitable for the animals. If the elk coming in from Kentucky were protected, Mr. Sledd said, Virginia would in effect be establishing a resident population by default.

        Jimmy McAuley, president of the Mountain Buck Club at Kona in Letcher County, called on Virginia authorities to grant a moratorium on elk hunting of three to five years to allow the herds to get established. Short of that, Mr. McAuley told the Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg that his group will appeal to Virginia sportsmen's clubs to ask hunters not to shoot the elk.

        Mr. Sledd said Virginia has no estimates on how many elk are crossing the state line. He said one was killed last year by a hunter who mistook it for a deer.

        Although only male deer can legally be killed in Virginia this fall, either sex of elk can be taken.

        “I think their concerns are unfounded,” Mr. Gassett said. “Technically, it's none of our business what they do in their state. We said, "We'd rather you not do that,' and they did it anyway.”

        Last year, two elk from Kentucky took up residence on a golf course in Tazewell, Tenn., leaving their hoofprints on manicured greens. Those animals, along with seven to 10 others that also went across the Kentucky border, were welcome in Tennessee, which is trying to re-establish an elk herd of its own.

        The fact is, Mr. Gassett said, elk, like black bear and other animals, don't recognize state lines.

        “We get a lot of Virginia's bears,” Mr. Gassett said. “We're not complaining about that.”


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