« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

John Myers, Forum News Service, Published March 09 2014

Fond du Lac Band mulls elk restoration

DULUTH – A plan is in the works to restore wild, free-roaming elk to parts of east-central and northeastern Minnesota for the first time since they were removed from the region 125 years ago.

Tribal leaders of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have authorized the band’s natural resources staff to study the concept of reintroducing “omashkoozoog” in southern St. Louis, Carlton and northern Pine counties.

“We went to the tribal council with the idea of restoring elk to his part of the state and they said yes … enthusiastically yes,” said Mike Schrage, Fond du Lac wildlife manager. “So now we need to take it beyond an interesting idea to see if it makes sense.”

The elk, relocated from some other state or Canada, would be released in the southern reaches of the 1854 treaty area and northern reaches of the 1837 treaty between Lake Superior Chippewa and the federal government that give tribal members hunting, fishing and gathering rights across much of the region.

Karen Diver, Fond du Lac tribal chairwoman, highlighted the idea in her annual “state of the band” report last week.

Schrage noted that elk were abundant and native to the area until they were shot out by the late 1800s as European immigrants settled the area. Before that, Ojibwe people had a history with elk as much as with deer and moose and caribou, he noted.

It will likely take several years, lots of money and both social and political “buy-in” before the first elk are released in the area, Schrage said. The area has extensive state and county forestland.

“The first thing we need to do is a habitat study to see if the proper habitat is there for them to thrive. Then we need to get the government land agencies involved, the residents, landowners, farmers, deer hunters. … We’re going to need buy-in for a lot of different communities to make this happen,” Schrage said.

Elk are fairly adaptable, experts say, and are more likely to thrive in a warming climate than moose, which are rapidly declining. Schrage said no elk would be released anywhere near the current moose population in northern St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties.

Elk also appear to co-exist well with whitetail deer, the dominant species now on the region’s forest landscape. Several other eastern states have reintroduced wild elk herds – including Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Kentucky, Virginia, Missouri and Tennessee. None has reported any negative impact on deer.

Illinois, West Virginia and New York currently are considering reintroducing elk.

Michigan restarted its elk population with just seven animals in 1918, a herd that has since grown to more than 900 elk, for the most part well-accepted by both landowners and sportsmen in the state, including deer hunters. According to elk experts, elk and deer have different diets than elk during the spring, summer and fall. While the diet overlaps during the winter, even then elk and deer generally forage in different areas.