60 Kentucky elk now roaming Wisconsin’s Jackson County

January’s trapping efforts mark the third winter of elk capture in Kentucky. The past two years those Kentucky elk were released in Jackson County in an attempt to establish a “southern” elk herd in the Black River State Forest. (Photo by Jerry Davis)


There are now 60 elk roaming the forests and fields in Jackson County.  These animals originated from 2015 and 2016 releases of animals brought in from Kentucky.

Several additional Wisconsin releases are planned during the next three years.  Plans include taking the next two releases, 2017 and 2018, to the Clam Lake area in Sawyer/Ashland counties and then the last release would be back in Black River Falls area.

These new elk disperse based on habitat needs, predator pressure, and other factors.  Some of the animals from the 2016 release have ventured onto area farms.  Some area cranberry operations have been protected by high fencing, but traditional farming and one hunting preserve operation (primarily pheasants) have had to deal with a large number (30 or more) of elk eating and damaging crops and hunting cover.

These unprotected landowners have been working with DNR biologists and legislators to resolve the issue and have received some assistance, but are hoping for more.

Wolves, or the lack of them, also seem to have exacerbated the situation.  The wolf packs in the area, five of them, are not often found in the farm areas, making those regions attractive to the elk.

Yes, it is often great to try to re-establish native plant and animal species, but since elk roamed Wisconsin more than a century ago, the habitat and social pressures have changed drastically.

If fencing and other mechanical means are necessary to keep animals contained or restrained, it doesn’t seem very natural.  In fact, it’s similar to a zoo.

If this was, and continues to be, an experimental release, careful consideration should continue to be given to the successes and problems brought about by the experiment.

One should not assume it is going to continue, or that it will fail.

The Department of Natural Resources and state government should not lose sight of the experimental nature of this scientific plan and modify accordingly.



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