Elk once roamed freely over half of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. Due to many factors including over hunting, poaching and loss of habitat they were eradicated in the mid 1800’s. There has been a long standing effort to reintroduce Elk to the state with the ultimate goal of at least two self-sustaining herds
In the present day the majority of the suitable habitat for Elk is in Northern and central forest regions. This is a good thing as many of the habitat is in national forests and in sparsely populated areas. This was not however the case when the efforts to re-establish Elk numbers first began in the early 1930’s. These efforts were thwarted by poachers with the last four elk being killed sometime in 1948.
Even though the early attempts meant with failure the idea was never given up on. [In 1989, the DNR was instructed by Wisconsin’s state legislature to explore the feasibility of successfully reintroducing various members of the deer family that had once resided in the state. Species included in the discussion were elk, moose and caribou. After studying the factors that go into a reintroduction efforts success it was decided that the Elk had a higher possibility of successful reintroduction than either the Moose or the Caribou. So it was determined to once again try to get Elk back in the state.
This effort began in earnest in 1993 when Wisconsin state legislature gave UW-SP a chance to study the potential of reintroducing elk to the Great Divide District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near Clam Lake.
In February of 1995, 25 elk were trapped transported to and held in a quarantine facility. While at this facility they underwent extensive disease testing. After they were deemed disease free they were released, on May, 17th 0f 1995 in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) near the tiny town of Clam Lake.
In May of 1999 the initial reintroduction study which was conducted by the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point was considered a success by the state legislature
Management responsibility of the herd was transferred from the UW-SP to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. From 1995 to 1999 the herd had grown from the original 25 or a healthy 40 elk.
The Wisconsin department of Natural Resources wrote a new elk management plan and quickly began implementation. Wisconsin DNR is working in co-operation with the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources to bring new blood into the elk herd.
The management plan, and efforts to reach goals that are currently being implemented include the following:
Under the agreement with the state of Kentucky they will import up to 150 elk over a 3-5 year period.
These wild elk will be relocated in the following manner:
- The existing Clam Lake herd will receive up to 75. The long-term population goal for this herd is 1,400 elk.
- An additional 75 will be used to finally realize the long term goal of establishing a new elk herd in the Black River State Forest. The long-term population goal for this herd is base of up to 390 elk;
- The plan will also allow for the assisted relocation of elk to the most suitable elk habitat within the specified ranges;
- Appreciate the importance not only of high quality habitat but also of the importance of finding viable ways to reduce the impact that apex predators could have on the newly formed herd
- The size of the current Clam Lake range will be increased to include more and better habitat.
There is a new and exciting development in the elk relocation story.
A 7 acre acclimation pen is being built in the Dike 17 Wildlife Habitat Area, located within the Black River State Forest near Black River Falls, Wisconsin These Special precautions are one part of the current elk reintroduction efforts, and are being implemented to help assure elk received from Kentucky become accustomed to their new home in Jackson County.
Once the elk have arrived in Jackson County from Kentucky all of them will be housed in the acclimation pen for a minimum of 75 days to satisfy health testing requirements. This will also give the elk ample time to become familiar with their new surroundings.
The health testing requirements for wild animals being imported into the state are extremely stringent, due to this there will be an 8 acre buffer area surrounding the pen. This buffer zone will be temporarily closed to ensure the quarantine period is not jeopardized.
There are three main reasons for the closure; most importantly it will help ensure the health and welfare of the elk during quarantine. The other major reasons are to provide for biosecurity at the Quarantine facility and also to protect the facility infrastructure.
A total of 15 acres will be closed to all unauthorized personnel for the duration of the 75 days that the elk are held within the quarantine pen.
Signs clearly stating “no entry” will be posted in a 100 foot perimeter around the entire pen. The main property entrances will have maps which will clearly identify the area which is closed.
The public is also being asked for them to voluntarily avoid the area that is closed until the elk are released early in the summer.
The best way to give the elk the best chance of a successful reintroduction is to keep human interference as small as possible as the elk adjust to their new home and new environment.
After the elk are released from the quarantine pen later this year the signage around the 100 foot buffer area around the parameter of the pen will be removed.
The quarantine facility and the pen however will not be open to the public until the 3 to 5 year reintroduction effort is complete.