- Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 February 2010 05:00
- Published on Wednesday, 10 February 2010 05:00
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From all accounts, it’s fair to say that our early Virginia ancestors had it in for large animals. Sometimes they had good reasons, and other times they didn’t. But it doesn’t matter, because for the most part they were successful in their efforts to get rid of them. At one time Virginia, and especially the Northern Neck, was home to a surprisingly large number of large wilderness animals.
When the first settlers arrived in 1609 there were wolves, mountain lions, bear, elk, and farther south in Virginia, even a species of buffalo. But many of these animals didn’t stand much of a chance against the growing population of settlers. The last wolf was killed in 1815 (starting in 1633 Virginia paid a bounty on wolves) and the last mountain lion in 1882. Other large creatures hung on, but many of the large North American quadrupeds, which President Thomas Jefferson routinely bragged about, were all but wiped out in his native Virginia.
Daniel Boone is reported to have defended himself against both a bear and a mountain lion. So, I guess it’s fair to say that when it came to these two species, he was probably a “shoot first and ask questions later” kind of guy. However, he might have found it disturbing, if he were alive today, to know that some other creatures he knew well are no longer a part of our ecosystem in Virginia. One in particular is the elk.
They used to be common in Virginia, but they make good eating (personally, I love elk jerky) and many farmers considered them a nuisance. So, no one seemed to mind that much as their numbers were decimated. The last natural elk herd was wiped out in the 1850s. But, that may not be the last word. In a new trend, species like the elk are being reintroduced into old habitats. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, in a meeting in December of 2009, asked for a report on possible reintroduction of elk by April of 2010. Several areas of Virginia are being considered, but most likely is the Southwest Virginia. Businessmen hoping for the tourist trade like the idea, as do a number of county boards. However, there are farmers and those in livestock industry who have their worries. Naturally, this all has to be worked out, but the first Virginia elk herd could make its appearance in a couple of years.
There has also been a significant effort in Virginia to preserve some of that habitat that could help make it possible for some of our remaining large animals to hang on. In an effort made possible by the support of both Republicans and Democrats (and this has included the active support of former Governor Tim Kaine and Speaker Howell), Virginia has been successfully acquiring and preserving open space. This may sound pleasant enough, but if you’re a bear or a bobcat, or a host of other species, there is a lot more to it than that. This program and efforts like it directly affects your survival. During the past decade, Virginia has protected nearly 600,000 acres from development. That’s impressive.
In western states, over some very loud objections, there have been programs to reintroduce wolves. This isn’t likely to happen in Virginia. But elk are a good compromise. They’re pretty, indeed, they’re majestic, and besides, Virginia was once their stomping ground. I for one would be glad to have them back.
You may reach David Kerr