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Return of the Natives: Wisconsin Sets 2018 Season for Thriving Elk Herd

Return of the Natives: Wisconsin Sets 2018 Season for Thriving Elk Herd

This fall, 10 lucky hunters will be hiking the North Woods of Wisconsin in search of a big game species not hunted here for over 100 years: elk.

Wisconsin’s new elk hunt is a conservation success story, and much of the credit goes to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). Yet, this success would not have happened without hunter-generated conservation dollars, hunter advocacy through several conservation groups, dozens of volunteers and other interested parties. The new hunt will take place in an area that encompasses parts of Ashland, Bayfield, Price and Sawyer Counties.  

According to the Duluth News-Tribune, “The season will be open from Oct. 13 to Nov. 11 and Dec. 13-21. Only Wisconsin residents are eligible to purchase an elk tag. The application fee is $10 and applications will be available starting May 1 at GoWild.wi.gov. All drawing winners will be required to complete an elk hunter education course prior to the start of the season.”

The 10 tags will be distributed accordingly: Four tags will be awarded to Wisconsin residents through a random drawing; one tag will be awarded to a Wisconsin resident through a raffle conducted by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF); and the remaining five tags will go to the six Wisconsin Chippewa tribes.

“This is an incredible conservation success story for Wisconsin," WDNR Secretary Dan Meyer noted in an agency press release acknowledging that the managed elk hunt is the result of over 22 years of conservation efforts by WDNR staff and partners. “Thanks to the efforts of so many great organizations and individuals, the northern elk herd has continued to grow to the point where we can offer this very special and long-awaited hunting opportunity."

According to historical background provided by the WDNR, elk once inhabited at least 50 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. But over-harvesting of the elk and a rapid decline in available habitat extirpated elk from Wisconsin by the late 1800s. An attempt to reintroduce elk in the 1930’s failed.

Then “in 1993 the Wisconsin state legislature authorized the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) to evaluate the potential for reintroducing elk to the Great Divide District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) near Clam Lake. During February 1995, 25 elk were trapped, held in a quarantine facility while undergoing disease testing, and transported to the Clam Lake release site. After being held in a pen for an acclimation period, the elk were released into the CNNF on May 17, 1995.” Over the years, the original reintroductions were supplemented by elk from various locations, including Kentucky.

As the aforementioned WDNR press release noted, “Pittman-Robertson funding has been integral to elk restoration efforts in Wisconsin since the very beginning, helping to fund elk management, research, and monitoring. This funding source is and will continue to be critical, and is supplemented by private donations from several partner groups that paid for the most recent translocation efforts from Kentucky.”

The elk harvest quota for 2018 was determined by the department's Elk Advisory Committee, which, in addition to WDNR biologists and researchers, includes representation from the following: RMEF; Wisconsin Wildlife Federation; Jackson County Forestry and Parks; Wisconsin Conservation Congress; U.S. Forest Service; Wisconsin Bowhunters Association; Great Lakes Indian & Wildlife Commission; UW—Stevens Point; and the Ho-Chunk Nation.

"Our volunteers and members have been looking forward to this moment for a long time, and a hunt will show the success of the reintroduction effort to a lot of people," said Kurt Flack, Regional Director for the RMEF, which has invested over $1.6 million on elk reintroduction and other conservation efforts in Wisconsin. “We are excited to play a role in the hunt and continue to raise money for Wisconsin elk management.”

The RMEF elk tag raffle tickets—for the single RMEF elk tag to be drawn—are expected to be available for purchase by May. Hunters who are interested in purchasing raffle tickets may do so by visiting RMEF.org/Wisconsin.

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