Wisconsin girl here, and I have been keeping track of the elk herd in Wisconsin. Elk are native to Wisconsin, it is just that during the 1800's they were almost wiped out. In 1948, the last elk was killed. Fast forward to 1995, 25 elk from Michigan were introduced to Northern Wisconsin (Clam Lake herd) to study how well they were able to survive. They have been doing great, with the herd growing very steadily for the last 20 years. There are about 160 in the herd today.
Fast forward again to 2015 when Wisconsin has decided to put forth a reintroduction effort. This effort will be to help the current herd grow even more and also to reintroduce elk a little further south into Jackson County to establish a new herd. Wisconsin has made an agreement with Kentucky for this process. Kentucky will be providing 150 elk over a 3-5 year period. All elk are trapped and quarantined in Kentucky and after they pass evaluation, shipped to Wisconsin. After they are shipped to Wisconsin, they will continue quarantine for 120 days before being released into the wild. In exchange for the elk, Wisconsin is helping Kentucky financially with projects that benefit wildlife, including elk but in particular, the ruffled grouse.
When all of this is said and done, Wisconsin is hoping to increase the elk herd to 1,400 in the northern herd and 390 in the new herd in Jackson County. There have been a number of concerns on this topic.
- Wolves- Yes, wolves will kill a number of elk. Efforts are being made to improve elk habitat and spreading them out.
- Disease- There is a great number of tests these elk must go through before being put into the wild. They are testing for tuberculosis and brucellosis prior to being shipped to Wisconsin. They are being tested for CWD as well.
- Crop damage- Since most of the elk will be on public land, crop damage shouldn't be a huge concern. But if someone is experiencing damage, action can be taken. The animal can be hazed or removed if there is a problem. Also, elk are covered under the Wildlife Damage Abatement and Claims Program, so in an instance where damage is significant, the department is able to financially compensate the landowner for damages.
- Costs- It is pretty expensive, about $200,000 a year. But most of the funding for this project is donations from groups including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (a minimum of $300,000), the Ho-Chunk Nation ($150,000) and Jackson County Wildlife Fund ($50,000).
Will we be able to hunt them? I sure hope so! It may not be in the next 5 years, but I am hopeful for the future. Current rules require that the Clam Lake herd must reach a population size of at least 200 elk before a hunt can be considered. Also, the Jackson County herd must reach 150 animals. Just when the herds will reach these requirements depends upon the speed with which the herds grow.