Do you have a role to play in the management of Wisconsin’s elk? In this week’s Wildlife Matters, the Masked Biologist makes the argument that you do, and gives us a quick peek at the state’s elk management plan.
I spent some time this new year’s holiday trying to decide what to write about; as sometimes happens, in this case, an idea came to me from the headlines. The Wisconsin DNR has released its draft ten-year elk management plan. I thought I would take this opportunity to encourage you to get involved. After all, these are your elk, and as residents, citizens, hunters of Wisconsin this affects your recreation, your sportsman’s dollars, your agricultural outputs, and many other facets of life. Now statistically, about a quarter of you listening right now are not aware that Wisconsin historically had elk, or that our state has reintroduced elk populations into two locations. I have done a couple of episodes about elk over the years, my most recent one about the ELF antenna array on the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest, so maybe that percentage among WXPR listeners is even lower. Since I only have a few minutes a week to share information with you, I can’t possibly go over the background of Wisconsin elk in any great detail, but I can hit the high points.
Basically, there were elk across Wisconsin before statehood, but as the state became more settled and conversion from the big woods to agriculture resulted in habitat loss. Elk were not managed or protected, and they were probably shot indiscriminately by farmers and settlers. By the 1880s, elk were gone from the state. Some reintroduction efforts failed before the Clam Lake reintroduction late in the 20th century started to take hold. There was an elk reintroduction plan that guided management, prioritized funding expenditures, and set a herd size threshold at which hunting could occur. A second reintroduction effort, this time bringing elk from Kentucky to not only infuse new animals into the small resident group at Clam Lake but establish a second population in the Black River Falls area. Once the population in Clam Lake reached the establishment threshold, a hunting season was authorized. I like the way they have set up the draw. You pay ten bucks for an equal footing chance at a once in a lifetime elk tag. No preference points for landowners or accumulating points across years as there are for hunting wolves and bears. Every year you want to try to hunt, you can just apply. And the money from application fees doesn’t just disappear into thin air, it goes into a dedicated fund that pays for elk management strictly and specifically.
So back to the management plan. I encourage you to get involved. You can go to the newly redesigned DNR website and access the “Elk in Wisconsin” page. If you want, you can read the draft elk management plan itself; at 155 pages, it might be about the same size as the Rhinelander phone book. I didn’t have enough time to get through it all before my recording deadline, but I read the executive summary, the goals and objectives, management concerns, and then some of the information in the surveys and attached documents in the appendix. There is also a prerecorded presentation you can listen to, and live presentations were scheduled. Since you are listening to this on Monday, you can still Register to attend an online open house meeting tonight, January 11 from 6-8pm. Note that they won’t be taking comments during that meeting. Comments must be submitted in writing, either by email or snail mail, by January 23rd—the contact information is on the website.
I know colleagues in academia, management, and scientific research who work to make the elk herd in Wisconsin everything it can be. It is so common for Wisconsin sportsmen to criticize how wildlife species are handled here, but this state has more opportunities for citizen involvement than any other, especially when you consider our Conservation Congress and County Deer Advisory Committee are all operated by citizens. Once this plan has gone through public review, and is approved by the DNR Natural Resources Board, it will guide the management of Wisconsin’s largest game animal for the next ten years. Take some time to familiarize yourself with everything there is to know about Wisconsin’s elk; I promise you won’t be disappointed.