New herd of elk could be reintroduced to northeastern Minnesota

DULUTH, Minn. — There’s an effort gaining steam to potentially reintroduce elk to the northeastern part of Minnesota.

Minnesota Public radio reported that University of Minnesota research illustrates nearly 80 percent of rural landowners and residents support restoring elk to the area.

University of Minnesota has spent the last three years observing potential habit for elk in northeast Minnesota: the Cloquet Valley State Forest north of Duluth; the Fond du Lac State Forest and Indian reservation near Cloquet and the Nemadji State Forest, near the Wisconsin border.

Public support is vital because the state passed a law in 2016 barring the expansion of elk in northwestern Minnesota.

“Without enough public support, this idea would probably be dead in the water,” said Mike Schrage, wildlife biologist with Fond du Lac Band. “It would be difficult to successfully turn loose a big hairy animal like an elk on the landscape without support from the public and landowners for doing it.”

The three state forests researchers are studying all include areas that are logged for aspen trees. That creates a lot of new habitat for young aspen trees, which provide ideal forage for elk.

“They like aspen, they like grass, but they can eat a lot of different things,” said Schrage. “I’m pretty confident in the end we will find that there’s enough habitat. It’s just quantifying where is it and how much of it there is.”

They’re due to submit their final report to the state in the summer. Then it will be up to policy makers to decide whether to bring elk back to the region, something that would require “a significant chunk of funding,” he said

Schrage says the earliest Minnesotans would likely see a new herd of elk on the landscape three or four years from now.

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