On Oct. 25, the Department of Natural Resources’ board eliminated previously set guidelines for establishing elk hunting seasons in Wisconsin, in favor of less arbitrary rules and more flexibility.
Prior to the change, elk herds in Wisconsin had to reach a specific population before harvesting permits could be issued. Additionally, permits would have had to have been issued for five percent of the population.
There are currently two elk herds in Wisconsin, one in Clam Lake and the other in Black River Falls. The previous population requirements for these herds was 200 and 150, respectively.
With the rule change, hunting seasons may be established without reaching a minimum population, and without restrictions regarding how many harvesting permits can or must be issued.
Eric Lobner, Director of the Wildlife Management program for the DNR, explained that both the population requirements and the five percent rule were arbitrary numbers.
“What we were trying to do is make it more of a biological decision, a scientific based decision, for when we would implement a hunting season,” Lobner said.
Lobner posed a hypothetical scenario in which the Clam Lake herd had 198 bulls and only one cow. Prior to the restrictions removal, there could be no hunting season in this scenario.
Lobner said, “As you could see in that situation, where you have a lot of surplus bulls, realistically you could have a harvest and it really would not have an impact on the herd.”
He believes the DNR has a good enough understanding of what’s happening within the elk herds to be able to create less arbitrary standards for when to issue harvesting permits.
“Most of the elk out on the landscape have collars on them, so we have a really good idea of exactly what the population numbers are in the herd. At the same time, because we have collars on most of the animals, we also know what our reproductive rates are, as well as any winter loss,” Lobner said.
Despite rules changing, Lobner said he does not expect there to be any immediate effects since the herds are near what would have been their population requirement anyway. He said the idea was to allow for flexibility in the future, should the populations drop.
The state of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin DNR has been working to reintroduce elk into Wisconsin since 1989, approximately 100 years after elk had been extirpated from Wisconsin.
Most recently, 31 elk from Kentucky were added to the Clam Lake herd.
Lobner said the benefits of reintroducing elk are both economic and ecological.
Economically, the tourism industry benefits from people who wish to see elk bugling. Additionally, the possibility of an elk hunting season could be financially beneficial.
“From an ecological standpoint, restoring a wildlife population to the ecosystem here in the state is really helping fine tune that love of life that we have for wildlife species across the state,” Lobner said.
Environment Section Editor