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Wisconsin Elk Management Plan Tabled as NRB Sets Fall Hunt Quota

Wisconsin DNR

Wisconsin has been steadily rebuilding its elk population.

The Northern elk herd, formerly called the Clam Lake herd, ranges across Ashland, Bayfield, Price, Sawyer, and Rusk counties.

The Central elk herd, formerly called the Black River elk herd, is found in the forested region of Jackson County.

Together, elk the population in Wisconsin is approaching 400 animals.

The proposed Elk Management plan calls for a long-term population size goal of about 1,400 elk in the Northern elk herd zone and about 300 in the Central elk herd zone.

The growth in the Central elk herd is what is causing most concern, especially for cranberry growers in the area.

With roughly 100 elk in that zone right now, farmers and growers are already seeing a lot of conflicts.

Jim Bible owns a cranberry marsh in Black River Falls. He told Natural Resources Board members Wednesday that elk have caused damage to plants and have eaten his cranberries.

And while he does get damage reimbursement from the DNR, he says it takes its toll.

“The thing for me is mental stress. We put a lot of time and energy into these cranberry marshes               . They’re our life’s work. In the fall of 2019 in fact, we had to patrol our marsh every hour on the hour from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. to keep them off.”

Bible along with several other growers and farmers that spoke during the last NRB meeting are concerned if the elk population is left to grow more, they’re going to keep running into these conflicts, with the DNR having to keep paying for damages or mitigation tactics like putting up fences.

NRB members agreed those concerns were valid. A couple members asked DNR staff what the options were for managing these conflicts and how it’s address in the plan.  

DNR Secretary Preston Cole recommended the board table the elk management plan again to give his staff time to come up with set guidelines for what level of damage and conflict the DNR should base its actions on.

“I think we hear you loud and clear as to the efficacy of actions around controlling the damage and the cost of the damage, but I need a tipping point to guide our decision making and you need a tipping point for if those metrics or met or they’re not,” said Cole.

The board voted to table the elk management plan another month to give DNR staff time to come up with those metrics.

The NRB did approve a quota for the fall elk hunt.

It’s the first time since the hunt started in 2018 that quota will be reduced.

For the last three years, the Natural Resources Board has set the bull elk quota at 10.

The DNR and the elk advisory committee recommend eight this year, which the board approved.

DNR Wildlife biologist Scott Roepke said the population as a whole is still growing by about 10-percent each year.

“Beginning in 2019 into 2020 we began to see slower growth in the bull segment of the herd as compared to the cow segment of the herd. We believe the harvest is having an impact on that bull growth,” said Roepke.

Of the approved elk quota, four will go to the Ojibwe Tribes hunt, three will selected from the state permit lottery, and one will be raffled off through the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

May 31st is the last day to apply for a tag. The elk hunt starts October 16th.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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