This report from Glidden Enterprise.
The Clam Lake elk herd experienced another good year in 1999. The winter of 1998-1999 was very mild, and survival of both adults and calves was good.
The herd was estimated at 45-47 elk going into the calving season. At least 16 calves were born, 11 of which were captured and radio-collared within their first few days of life to allow monitoring of survival. To date, 10 of the 11 are still alive. The summer also went smoothly, with no unusual events reported. The rut was punctual and brief this year, indicating that breeding was efficient with most of the cows probably bred. The three oldest bulls, number 3, 10, and 19 (all 5 year-olds) were with separate harem groups and likely did almost all the breeding.
Bugling was heard beginning in mid-September and lasting into early October. Fall was also uneventful this year, with no known moralities during gun deer season. Almost all of the hunters encountered by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource (DNR) biologists were aware that elk inhabited the areas they were hunting, and many reported seeing elk recently or during the past few years.
The winter of 1999-2000 has again gotten off to a very mild start. And survival is expected to be good. The herd is now estimate at 60-65 animals.
There were 8 known elk mortalities during 1999:
- February 3 – Yearling bull #31 was found dead in a spring hole on private property north of the Clam Lake area. It had apparently gotten into the spring hole and drowned after unsuccessfully trying to climb out.
- February 26 – Male calf #43 was found dead with the carcass heavily scavenged. University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UW-SP) elk project personnel conducted a field necropsy, but they were unable to conclusively determine the cause of death. Predation was suspected as the probable cause of death, however.
- April 15 – Yearling bull #32 died as a result of injuries sustained in a collision with a car several months earlier.
- April 26 – Female calf #47 (nearly 1 year old) was found dead by UW-SP biologists. She was killed by wolves.
- April 28 – Male calf #44 (nearly 1 year old) was found dead, also killed by wolves.
- June 5 – Male calf #62 was found dead by biologists. Investigation of the carcass by DNR wildlife health specialists in Madison, WI revealed that capture stress and dehydration were the causes of death. When he was captured at 6-8 days of age by DNR biologists this calf was lighter than average (29 pounds) and very lethargic, indicating that he was already in poor condition.
- August 2 – Female #70, an uncollared calf, was found dead along Highway 77 by an elk project biologist. She had obviously been hit by a car.
- December 4 – Two-year old bull #36 was found incapacitated but alive by a muzzleloader hunter, who reported it to DNR biologists. They found the elk lying on its side with legs moving, but unable to stand up. Because evidence indicated that the animal had been there a long time, the decision was made to euthanize it. Examination of the carcass revealed that it probably died from internal injuries received in an unreported collision with a vehicle.
Most of the herd continued to remain within the study area in the vicinity of the area where they were originally released. With the exception of bulls #31 and #32 who both ranged north onto private land before they died, no major movements were observed. The elk are clearly finding all of their seasonal requirements within a relatively small area near Clam Lake.
This year marked the transfer of monitoring and management responsibilities from UW-SP to the DNR. The transition has gone smoothly, in large part because of the assistance of UW-SP researchers Dr. Ray Anderson and John Schmidt, who helped DNR personnnel during this phase to learn more about the Clam Lake elk and the methods used to study them. While completing his graduate thesis on habitat selection by the Clam Lake elk, John is continuing to monitor the herd for the DNR. He is being assisted by Interim Elk Biologist Sam Moore, a long-time wildlife manager for the DNR in Hayward.
In addition to assuming the responsibility for field monitoring to the Clam Lake herd, the DNR held 6 public meetings throughout the state in September. The purpose of these meetings was to provide interested people with information on initial results of the research conducted by Dr. Anderson and his students from UW-SP, along with elk management issues and options. Although attendance was low, feedback was overwhelmingly in favor of elk restoration in Wisconsin.
After public meetings were held, the DNR began drafting a management plan and environmental assessment for the Clam Lake herd, along with a protocol for establishing new elk herds elsewhere in the state. Some of the issues discussed in the plan include management of elk in different areas, elk hunting seasons, responses to crop damage and nuisance elk complaints, predator management, elk protection, captive elk ranches, diseases, and possible impacts on recreationists, businesses, and other resources in the Clam Lake area. Some of these issues will undoubtedly spark controversy, but we are optimistic that elk restoration will continue to be a positive program providing numerous benefits to the citizens of Wisconsin.
Looking forward, the year 2000 will be an important one for elk in Wisconsin. In April, the Natural Resources Board will meet to decided whether to retain the Clam Lake herd. If the decision is “yes”, which all indications are it will be, the Board will also decided on whether or not to approve the management plan. If it is approved, the DNR will have a prescription for managing the herd that can then be implemented. Others areas of the state could then be formally considered for establishment of new herds using the protocol developed by the DNR, as well. In the meantime, the Clam Lake elk ill probably continue to thrive in their new environment, blissfully unaware of the excitement and confusion surrounding humanity as we enter the new millennium.
[Image: Courtesy of Flickr user Beige Alert]