The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources oversees and regulates the state’s elk population. On January 3rd, they unveiled a new plan to make sure Wisconsin’s elk continue to thrive — and they are asking Wisconsinites for suggestions on how to improve it.
Input from residents has already gone into designing the current version. Before drafting the plan, the DNR sent out a survey asking folks what they wanted to see included. In a recent presentation about the plan, DNR Wildlife Biologist Scott Roepke said that the answers to this survey helped direct the plan’s development.
“These themes really helped guide the management strategies and actions that were included in the plan, and really helped to formulate the ideas that we used heading into the chapters,” Roepke said.
At one time, Wisconsin had a robust a native elk population, with habitats all across the state. However, leading up to the 1880’s, elk were hunted without regulation in order to feed the state’s growing population. That, alongside deforestation to make room for new farmland, completely eradicated Wisconsin’s elk population.
Then, in 1995, University of Wisconsin researchers received permission to reintroduce elk to the state’s ecosystem. Combined with another reintroduction in 2015, that group of 25 elk has blossomed into a population of nearly 400 across Wisconsin today.
As with any large mammal, elk have a sizable influence on their ecosystem. They consume large quantities of vegetation, and can even influence what trees come to prominence in their grazing areas. Because of these effects, the DNR finds it necessary to control the population.
As part of the recommendations, state officials are looking to redesign the elk hunting system. By strategically adjusting the length and timing of hunting seasons, the DNR hopes to minimize the elk’s role in reshaping their ecosystem.
Currently, elk are confined to two ranges in northern and central Wisconsin. The DNR’s current recommendations would rename the ranges, and create more habitats by increasing the size of the central zone.
Both large zones cover a total of over 1,800 square miles of public and private land. This overlap creates the potential for interactions between the human and elk populations, and with these interactions comes the potential for conflict.
Elk have been known to cause minor damage to fences on private property, and are notorious for eating farmer’s crops.
That’s one reason public input is so valuable to this project.
According to the preliminary survey, Wisconsinites are much more partial to being compensated for property damage, instead of just shooting elk that cause it. With this in mind, the DNR designed the plan with non-violent solutions at the forefront of its recommendations to manage these conflicts.
Speaking with WORT, Roepke emphasized that comments from Wisconsinites can have a real impact on helping them craft the final version of the plan.
“This is just a draft and now we’re taking it out for public review, and we’re hoping to get as much public input as we can. Whether it’s supportive or not, we will accept all public input and then review that public input at the conclusion of the process here, and make any changes as necessary,” Roepke said.
They hope to have the final version of the plan completed by Mid-February, and its recommendations will go into effect in early 2022.