Wisconsin Elk Herd Comes Through Winter in Fine Condition

Wisconsin Elk Herd

This report from Wisconsin DNR and Glidden Enterprise.

Wisconsin’s elk herd came through the winter in excellent condition, according to Wisconsin’s wildlife officials who estimate the state herd to now be between 85 and 90 animals.

Laine Stowell, a wildlife biologist and elk specialist for the state Department of Natural Resources, said that all the state’s elk appear to have survived the winter. He added, that because the weather was mild — causing little or no stress on the elk — the females should have ‘vigorous, healthy calves this spring.’ Most of the elk are within a 20-mile radius around Clam Lake, in Ashland County. A seed herd of 25 elk were released in the area in 1995 to reestablish the animal in the state.

Stowell said researchers were busy over the winter monitoring radio-collared elk, and trapping elk to place new or replace worn radio collar on them, and checking the health of the state herd. There are currently 36 working radio transmitter collars on the air.

Elk staff conducted ground telemetry location surveys and aerial telemetry surveys. ‘During these surveys, we made about 293 elk telemetry locations and 586 individual elk mortality checks,’ Stowell said. The latter determine if any elk have died or if collars were dropped. None were found.

Weather conditions determined the outcome of the aerial surveys. Stowell said the best results were on a February day that had light winds, clear skies and temperatures in the 20s. ‘Elk seemed to be sunning themselves everywhere and we counted 52 animals,’ he said.

Researchers from universities at Connecticut, Wisconsin, Ontario, and Alberta working together as the Turchin Group conducted snow depth and vegetarian surveys and initiated feces collection for food habit studies. The group also provided the DNR with 10 GPS (geographic/global positioning system) radio collars, eight of which were attached to elk that were trapped this winter.

“Those collars are configured to take GPS locations once every four hours and on each Wednesday every 30 minutes,” Stowell said. “The collars will be recovered and data downloaded in about a year,” Stowell added.

Stowell said this winter was one of the best for trapping elk. Elk are lured with bait into the corral through a passageway with doors that shut behind them. Individual animals can then be collared, a blood sample taken and inoculated for any diseases.

A total of 31 elk were caught. Sixteen of these were recaptures, either from this year or previous years. Stowell said of interest to the researchers was that eight of the adult cow recaptures were of the original 16 female elk released in 1995.

“Five of those had nonfunctioning collars that had been put on in 1995,” he said. In some cases the smaller calf collars were replaced with larger adult collars. At other times animals outgrow their collars too quickly, and a release mechanism allows the collar to drop off. One bull elk that had a calf collar drop off, had an adult collar put on.

As part of elk research efforts, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point researchers also went into nine bear dens in the Clam Lake elk range and placed collars on five yearlings, replaced collars on five of the adult sows and assessed birthing and mortality rates of yearlings. The bear research along with wolf studies provides information on predator, prey relationships with elk.

[Image: Courtesy of Flickr user Rbennison]

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About the Author

Naomi K.Shapiro is an active member of Outdoor Writers Association of America and Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators. She lived for 15 years in Clam Lake, WI (permanent population of 140 not counting deer, bear and elk!) and writes regularly on issues involving business, the outdoors and tourism.


  1. WOTAN says:

    Please hurry – I wanna see these majestic beasts in Florence County by the time I retire! If I can get the elk in the hood, with moose coming down from Michigan, sweeeet! Who needs Yellowstone when you have Lac View Desert – now if we could just get Barefoot Charlie’s back, all would be well again.

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