Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Wisconsin’s Flambeau River State Forest new home to 31 Kentucky elk

Winter, Wis. — After another successful winter trapping effort in Kentucky, 31 elk were released recently from their quarantine pen in northern Wisconsin and are now roaming their new home in the Flambeau River State Forest.

This year’s “release herd” represents the third year of Wisconsin’s elk translocation efforts from Kentucky and the first year that elk have been released into the Clam Lake elk range in more than 20 years, said DNR deer and elk ecologist Kevin Wallenfang.

Following two years of transfer efforts from Kentucky into Jackson County, focus shifted back to the original northern herd that resides primarily in Sawyer County, which began with 25 Michigan elk released in 1995. Twenty-eight elk arrived at the holding pen in late March, but numbers grew slightly as pregnant cows gave birth this summer.

“Overall it was another great year, with many key partners including the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Flambeau River State Forest, U.S. Forest Service, and others all coming together to make these efforts a success,” said Wallenfang

“We experienced some new challenges this year, but overall things went well and we are excited to release these elk into the wild,”

Project goals include the addition of up to 75 elk to the northern population in an effort to supplement herd growth and add new genetics. Currently, the northern elk population is estimated at 186 to 198 animals.

“So about 190 elk, give or take. We are estimating that 35 calves were born in the Clam Lake range this spring. Predation has been low, too, with no losses so far,” said Wallenfang.

The northern herd is spread throughout several hundred square miles.

“The northern herd has grown steadily, but slower than desired over the years,” said Wallenfang. “This current effort will give the herd a boost in overall numbers and hopefully provide a jump-start for herd growth – an influx of new genetics will also benefit the herd moving forward.”

Upon arrival from Kentucky, the elk received 24-hour care and monitoring during the required 120-day quarantine period, which concluded in early June. Final health testing, general animal condition, and calving determined when the elk were released. Each animal, including newborn calves, were fitted with a tracking collar to provide movement, habitat preference, and survival data prior to release.

The public is being asked to avoid the general vicinity of the holding pen, and remain watchful when driving in the area to avoid a collision with the elk.

“It’s been a great effort getting them here, and now we want to do everything in our power to ensure the herd’s success,” said Lou George, northern regional director for Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “We ask for these first several weeks that folks give them space until they settle in.”

Jackson County

During the first two years of elk transfer efforts in eastern Jackson County, the DNR and a number of partners released 73 elk.

The central Wisconsin herd is estimated at approximately 60 animals, with up to 20 calves expected to have been born this spring. Seven of those Jackson County calves have been captured and collared so far.

Several others have been confirmed and efforts are being made to confirm additional births through field searches, observations, and trail cameras.

“The Jackson County calves are big – they’ve had average weights of 42 pounds,” said Wallenfang.

“You don’t expect to see a lot of herd growth during the first couple years, but they are doing quite well and beginning to show their reproductive capabilities,” said Wallenfang.

These elk are being observed and enjoyed by locals on a regular basis, and visitors from outside the area are traveling to Jackson County in hopes of viewing them in the wild.

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