Elk relocation brings mixed reactions
January 21, 2015
Marshfield News Herald
41 a.m. CST January 20, 2015
Elk are being reintroduced into Wisconsin, but not everyone is excited.
More Wisconsin residents soon will get the chance to listen to the sound of bugling elk thanks to the work of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, local branches of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
The Marshfield-based Yellow River Basin chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, along with other chapters throughout the state, will contribute proceeds from banquet events to help the DNR bring about 150 elk from Kentucky to Wisconsin the next three to five years. The Ho-Chunk Nation and Jackson County Wildlife Fund also have pledged money toward relocation expenses.
The DNR can bring up to 50 elk into the state each year, and the first group will be placed in Jackson County as soon as March. A group of DNR staff traveled to Kentucky to trap the elk and test them for diseases before the animals were transported to a temporary quarantine and acclimation pen in Wisconsin this spring.
Even though the animals are being tested, one local farmer who raises elk for meat said he isn't comfortable with the idea of the animals being so close to his Pittsville ranch. Ray Stauner of Pittsville, owner of Pittsview Farm Elk, said he doesn't think the DNR should bring 150 elk to the state when no live-animal testing for chronic wasting disease has been developed.
"I'm worried they're going to bring more disease into the state, and it's going to be right in my backyard and put me out of business," he said. "If one of these animals gets in a disease while in the holding pen, the first ranch going to get quarantined is going to be me... If they quarantine me, the only thing I can do is take my animals to slaughter."
Stauner also is concerned the DNR doesn't have to comply with federal and state regulations that apply to ranchers bringing elk into Wisconsin for agricultural purposes.
"I'm all for having a herd of elk in the state, but they have to go about it in a smart way," Stauner said.
A UWSP graduate student will assist the DNR in studying and monitoring the elk once they're in Wisconsin, including learning where the animals go, what they do, how many calves they have and their survival rate.
UWSP led the release of 25 elk in the Clam Lake area in 1995. The herd has since grown to about 160 animals.
"The first release has been quite successful, and having a second opportunity to increase the presence of elk in Wisconsin is very exciting," UWSP wildlife ecology professor Tim Ginnett said.
DNR big game ecologist Kevin Wallenfang said the plan to bring more elk, a native Wisconsin animal, back to the state garnered tremendous public support and generated excitement in the tourism community.
"People will be out viewing the elk," Wallenfang said. "We expect the Black River area is going to be great for people within a couple hours to flock to the area to see that activity, and it's right off the interstate corridor."
Visitors will have the chance to hear elk bugling and go on calf searches, added Donna Jones, chairwoman of the Marshfield-area Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation chapter.
The foundation is a conservation group focused on protecting habitats for elk and other wildlife. The group permanently protected or enhanced more than 7.65 million acres of wildlife habitat and opened more than 717,000 acres for public recreation across the U.S. since 1984.
The presence of elk in Wisconsin also could mean a limited hunting season for the animals in the future. Once the Clam Lake-area herd reaches a population of 200, the DNR can authorize a bow hunt and issue 10 elk tags, the foundation's regional director Lou George said.