Department of Natural Resources deer and elk ecologist Kevin Wallenfang was present at this month's Natural Resources Board (NRB) meeting to discuss the elk herd, as well as the 2019 hunting season in Wisconsin. He also presented the board with a timeline for completion of the state's elk management plan.
The public survey portion of the plan, he said, had been completed. From spring to fall of this year, he expected to complete stakeholder meetings with a variety of groups, including conservation groups in the state. The final draft of the management plan, Wallenfang said, would be done by December of 2019. He hoped that would be sooner, but gave December as the completion date. During the winter of 2020, he said, the department would hold public meeting and open a public comment period. From there pubic comments would be incorporated into the plan, which he looked to bring back to the board for final approval in summer of 2020.
Wallenfang gave an update to the board on the elk herds. He said translocation of the elk from Kentucky was complete. This year 48 animals arrived in Wisconsin "fat and happy," he said. The capture process took only two days, making this year the most efficient, with the highest capture rate. Only one animal was lost in the transportation process, he said.
Those elk are now in the Clam Lake elk range on a 120-day quarantine. They are in the same quarantine location used in 2017. The animals will stay in that area until late June or early July. This will give the cows enough time to have their calves and for the calves to gain weight and be able to keep up with the herd upon release, he said. There are 27 adult cows in the group recently moved to Clam Lake, with 21 of those confirmed to be pregnant. With the animals brought in, as well as those brought in while pregnant, Wallenfang said the total number of animals would be above the initial goal of 150. With 104 already released and a potential for 60 more calves from those released.
Wallenfang went on to describe the goals of the project, which included protecting the Kentucky elk. He stated there was no interest in creating a "put and take" situation, but to establish a self-sustaining population of Kentucky and Wisconsin elk. All hunter harvested animals also undergo CWD testing, he said, and there is a mandatory in-person registration for those lucky enough to receive and fill an elk harvest authorization. Both state hunters and tribal hunters were asked to refrain from hunting in the area where the Kentucky elk were recently released, and Wallenfang reported both groups did that.
In all, there were 10 harvest authorizations allotted last year, which will be the same this year. Five of those will go to state hunters and five to tribal hunters, just as last year. Tribal agreements state the tribes will be allotted half of the number of authorizations given each year.
Last year, with the 10-bull quota, over 38,494 applicants paid their $10 for a chance to draw an elk tag. Wallenfang said many hunters donated money above and beyond this fee, some up to $100. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation also sold raffle tickets for a chance at one of those tags for $10 per person, selling 5,000 tickets at that price. In all, approximately $351,000 was earmarked for elk management through the proceeds of these licenses last year. Of every $10 fee paid by hunters, $7 will go toward the elk management program.
Wallenfang also talked about elk populations and projections for those populations. The Northern herd in the Clam Lake area will number 211-236 post calving in 2019, he said, with the Jackson County herd at 70-80 animals. He stated the Northern Herd had not lost an animal to a confirmed wolf attack since 2017, although he knew there was some concern about that possibility among hunters. Some unexpected or "freak" accidents have befallen a few of the elk, Wallenfang said. Five have fallen through the ice and 4-5 have been killed by vehicles.
In the Jackson County herd, he said, 17 calves were born in 2016 and all of them were collared. As of his reporting this month, all of those calves were still alive and with the herd. A possible 50 calves could be added to the Northern herd, he said, and a possible 20 to the Jackson County herd this year.
The plan to allow a 10-bull quota this year, Wallenfang said, was conservative, even though, as chairman Dr. Fred Prehn pointed out, this amounted to 15 percent of the bulls in the herd. Taking into account those sorts of freak accidents that may happen, he said, they tried to stay on the low end of a safe harvest.
The board questioned the percentage of bull elk to be taken versus what percentage of whitetail deer bucks are taken during hunting season each year. Wallenfang said the comparison was a difficult one due to the nature of each type of animal. However, he was certain this quota was a conservative and safe one. He stated there will again be a May application period and a June drawing, the same as there was for the 2018 hunt. The board approved the hunting quota and is looking forward to the completion of the elk management plan for the state.
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