Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Southwest Va. county board rejects program to re-establish elk on mined land, as E. Ky. has done

The Board of Supervisors in Wise County, Virginia, has come out against a proposal by the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to place elk on reclaimed strip mines, but has endorsed the siting of electricity-generating wind turbines on the county's mountaintops, reports Jodi Deal of The Coalfield Progress in Norton (the county's independent city, which endorsed the elk idea).

The Virginia coalfield counties of Dickenson, Russell, Lee, Scott, Buchanan and Tazewell have been asked to take a herd from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, "the same group that oversaw an elk restoration project in Eastern Kentucky," Deal writes, but Supervisor Steve Bates said the animals have already crossed into Kentucky's mother state and are causing trouble. “I have not heard one single positive comment,” Bates said. “I’ve had two or three people from Pound say, ‘They’re already in our town, come down here and hunt them if you want them’.” Pound Gap is the county's major pass to Kentucky, across Pine Mountain. (Encarta map)

"The county’s agricultural extension agent, the Wise and Dickenson County Farm Bureau and a local cattlemen’s organization all offered to gather experts to give county supervisors more information," Deal reports, but "Supervisors decided the flood of opposition they’ve heard to the proposal was enough information to make a decision. ... Supervisors echoed citizens’ concerns about property damage, disease, risk to motorists and lack of food for the huge animals."

Supervisor Ronnie Shortt "pointed out that the county has invested money in a new agricultural center on the Wise-Dickenson county line — a venture that’s proving to be a successful partnership between the two counties," Deal writes. "County Administrator Shannon Scott pointed out that elk could also trample fledgling trees on reclaimed surface mines, hampering reforestation efforts." Others worried about impact on vineyards. The Farm Bureau and the Coalfield Beef Cattle and Land Use Association oppose the idea. (Read more; subscription required) The wind-turbine story is here.

In another hunting-related story in the Progress, News Editor Jeff Lester reports that Powell Valley Primary School was placed on lockdown for 20 minutes yesterday because a teacher heard a gunshot from a squirrel hunter in nearby Jefferson National Forest. Police found two hunters and made sure they weren't shooting toward the school, Lester writes.

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