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Virginia researchers considering new ways to warn drivers about elk crossings

Elk numbers in Southwest Virginia are growing since their reintroduction
Elk numbers in Southwest Virginia are growing since their reintroduction(Department of Wildlife Resources)
Published: May. 10, 2022 at 1:12 PM EDT
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A road project being built through a part of Southwest Virginia, where the state’s elk population is growing, has led transportation researchers to consider new measures to avoid traffic collisions with the supersized deer relatives that can weigh as much as 1,000 pounds.

As the state works to complete Buchanan County’s Corridor Q project, which involves a 14.2-mile piece of highway that will eventually run from the town of Grundy to the Kentucky state line near Breaks Interstate Park, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s research arm is conducting a study on strategies to protect both drivers and wildlife in the area.

Because the road is being built through prime elk country, researchers have also requested $200,000 to study the feasibility of a roadside warning system that could be calibrated to alert motorists to the presence of particularly large animals like elk.

If approved and funded, the elk detection system would likely be used to supplement other measures like wildlife crossings and fencing to help animals safely traverse the area.

“They’re not really used as a standalone measure,” said Bridget Donaldson, a scientist with the Virginia Transportation Research Council. “Because they can’t prevent animals from getting on the road. It’s really just to warn drivers.”

Transportation officials said there have been no documented cases yet of a vehicle colliding with an elk. The proposed elk detection system, they said, would be a proactive way to reduce that possibility in the future.

Once abundant in Appalachia, Virginia’s elk population was wiped out by the late 1800s due to habitat loss and overhunting. After several failed attempts to bring elk herds back to the state, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources successfully reintroduced an elk population starting in 2012. Beginning with 71 adults and 4 calves, Virginia’s elk population has grown to more than 250 animals, according to state officials.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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