Elk In Southwest VA
Conservation leads to species recovery, population control, and improved human lives. The last Virginia native elk was shot and killed in 1885. In 1926, only two herds remained from initial conservation program in early 1900’s. By 1970, the population disappeared again due to over-hunting. In 2010, the Virginia Departments of Game and Inland Fisheries released 75 elk in Buchanan County, Virginia with the hope that the population would grow to around 400 total. The current population estimate is around 50-100. Manually tracking these elk in Buchanan is time consuming and dangerous. Twenty five elk are tracked and monitored through the use of collars but with limited reception. The VDGIF are seeking to use unmanned systems to better track and survey the growing population. A major constraint that come with tracking these elk are distinguishing them from the similar species, white-tailed deer. They also are easily spooked and tend to hide from surveyors. The main issue is identifying these elk from the air, especially in the spring and summer months when foliage is at its peak.
The VDGIF has turned to James Madison University’s X-Labs to come up with a solution to track and survey the elk population in southwest, Virginia using drones. The elk population plays an important role in the ecosystem and the economy of that region in Virginia. It’s vital that the population continues to grow because it increases hunting equipment sales, it’s important to the economy that revolves around hunting, sparks educational programs about wildlife, and also brings in money for VDGIF conservation programs. Most of the elk population is surveyed through word of mouth, helicopter surveys, and the use of GPS collars. The best time to survey the elk is around sunrise since they are nocturnal animals. According to VDGIF website, elk associate themselves near canyons and rugged mountains away from human population centers. VDGIF is focusing their surveys in certain regions of Buchanan, Virginia, which is a mountainous area that is largely made up of forest.