WINTER - Twenty-eight elk were transported from Kentucky to the Flambeau River State Forest last week, part of a multi-year agreement to bolster the size and genetic diversity of the Wisconsin elk herd.
The animals handled the approximately 16-hour trip very well and arrived in excellent shape, said Kevin Wallenfang, deer and elk ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The shipment was comprised of 10 adult cows, eight female calves, five yearling bulls and five male calves, Wallenfang said.
The elk are being held in a 7-acre enclosure on the state property for an acclimatization and quarantine period.
The transfer was the first addition of elk to the state's northern herd since 25 animals from Michigan were released near Clam Lake in 1995.
The northern Wisconsin elk herd was estimated at between 157 and 174 after the 2016 calving season. The animals reside primarily in Ashland, Price and Sawyer counties.The DNR estimates 36 to 38 elk calves will be born in the herd this spring.
Most of the adult cows transferred March 22 from Kentucky are expected to give birth, too.
The addition of Kentucky elk this year will bring a critical influx of new genes to the Wisconsin herd. The 1995 transfer was from a single herd in Michigan.
The interstate agreement brought 73 elk to Jackson County over the last two years to establish a new herd in west-central Wisconsin.
The Jackson County herd, most of which are in the Black River State Forest, was estimated at 55 animals this winter, Wallenfang said, with 25 calves expected to be born this year.
The pact with Kentucky calls for up to 150 elk to be transferred to Wisconsin over up to five years.
Principal funding for the project has come from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Ho-Chunk Nation, Jackson County Wildlife Fund and Chippewa tribes.
The latest shipment of elk will be enclosed in the holding pen to satisfy quarantine and animal health testing requirements and allow the animals to become familiar with their new surroundings, according to the DNR.
The area surrounding the holding pen is closed to the public during this period. Individuals are asked to avoid the general vicinity of the closed area, the DNR said in a statement.
Minimizing human disturbance near the release site will allow the elk to adjust and will maximize the success of reintroduction efforts.
Wallenfang said the goal of bringing elk to Jackson County is complete and the remaining years of the agreement will focus on the northern herd.
"Our hope is to deliver up to 75 elk to the Clam Lake area over two years, but we have an option to return for a fifth year if necessary," Wallenfang said.
Volunteer elk monitors needed: The DNR is recruiting volunteers to help set up and monitor trail cameras in the elk reintroduction area in the Flambeau River State Forest near Winter.
The DNR plans to deploy a grid of 100 cameras to help monitor elk and other wildlife in the area. The work is intended to provide an accurate and cost-effective means to monitor the animals, including estimating elk abundance, cow/bull ratios and elk recruitment.
Volunteers will be required to attend a training session or complete online training, set out provided cameras according to training protocol, conduct four camera checks each year, upload photos to a website, view and classify the photos and commit to volunteering for at least one year.
Interested volunteers should contact Susan Frett at Susan.Frett@wisconsin.gov or (608) 221-6323.
Similar opportunities exist near Clam Lake and Black River Falls. Contact Frett to volunteer for those areas, too.
Licenses expire: Wisconsin hunting and fishing licenses expire Friday for the 2016-'17 license year.
New licenses are available for 2017-'18 at the DNR's Go Wild site at gowild.wi.gov as well as DNR offices, sporting goods stores and other license sales outlets.