Clam Lake, Wisconsin. After five years of research, the Wisconsin Elk Reintroduction Study has culminated in approval of the management plan and environmental assessment for the Clam Lake Elk Herd by the Wisconsin Natural Resource Board. Wisconsin’s elk are now an official state wildlife species and will be allowed to repopulate naturally. Approval of the management plan also establishes protocol for other elk reintroductions in the state, which would use the Clam Lake plan as a model to formulate a statewide management plan.
In 1995, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation teamed up with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to release 25 wild elk into the Chequamegon National Forest, where they had been absent for 130 years. Since then, the reintroduced elk herd has steadily increased to nearly 100 animals, including about 30 calves born this spring.
The Wisconsin DNR has set a management goal of two elk per square mile in the 288-square-mile core elk range, with limited hunting permits to be allotted when the herd size reaches 150 animals. Management goals will be continually reassessed as the DNR discovers which habitats the elk use more frequently and in what densities.
To date, Elk Foundation volunteers and partners have raised more than $480,000 to help complete the reintroduction study and to further research and manage the new herd. “Elk are something special. Like wolves, they are the epitome of what is wild,” said Bernie Lemon, RMEF Wisconsin volunteer state chair. “Having the herd here will be a thrill for children, many who may never get a chance to go to Yellowstone Park and see elk. It’s a piece of the puzzle that is no longer missing.”
The Elk Foundation recently committed an additional $78,000 for 2001 to help the DNR implement the long-term state elk management plan and complete other wildlife projects in Wisconsin. The plan will include identifying and evaluating other areas where reintroductions are feasible in the Central Forest and the northern portions of the state. A computer mapping project with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and the DNR will be critical in determining future elk release areas. The DNR will hold public meetings this fall to discuss potential reintroduction sites.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is an international, nonprofit conservation organization whose mission is to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife and their habitat. Founded in 1984, the Foundation now has 113,000 members who have helped generate the funds to conserve and enhance 3 million acres of wildlife habitat across North America.
[Image: Courtesy of Flickr user Dailyville]