For most people, spotting an elk in the wild sparks excitement and awe.
That’s especially so in southwestern Virginia, where elk have only recently been reintroduced after an absence of more than 150 years.
For farmers and cattlemen, however, the sight of elk inspires something else: fear and dread.
“If they are allowed to multiply, which it appears they are going to be, it could really be devastating to the farmers,” said Robby Robbins, a Wise County supervisor who runs a herd of cattle. “One of those things is as big as a cow. They get into your fields, it’s just like turning your cows into a hay field: They destroy it. It makes it harder for a farmer to make a living.”
Virginia’s elk population is relatively small, but Robbins said it already has created problems for several regional farmers, including one who was establishing a blueberry patch near the town of Pound, only to see it “devastated” by elk.
“It really poses a problem,” Robbins said. “It’s really great if you do have wildlife like that that’s visible, but you have to weigh the economic advantages both ways. The economics are just not in favor of the small-time farmer being able to take care of it,” referring to the eight- to 10-foot fencing required to keep elk out of a pasture or crop field.