MADISON — Wisconsin wildlife officials are considering allowing hunters to kill elk before the state’s two herds reach a minimum size, saying it would bring in money and the herds could still be managed responsibly.
Over the last three years, the agency has been importing animals from Kentucky to bolster a herd in Ashland County and establish a second herd in Jackson County with the ultimate goal of one day establishing a hunting season. DNR administrative rules in place since 2003 prohibit elk hunting until the Clam Lake herd grows to at least 200 elk and the Jackson County herd grows to 150 animals. Once a season is approved, permits would be limited to 5 percent of the total population.
DNR spokesman Sawyer Briel said Monday that there are 180 to 185 elk in the Clam Lake herd and 60 to 65 in the Jackson County herd.
The agency has proposed modifying the rules to eliminate the population minimums and permit limit. The DNR’s board is expected to vote at its Oct. 25 hearing on whether to take the proposal to a public hearing.
DNR staff wrote in a memo accompanying the proposal that the population minimums and permit limit are arbitrary and that they can manage the herds responsibly using science.
They also said that starting a hunting season sooner would generate license and application revenue that could be used for the elk reintroduction effort and hunter spending would boost local economies.
Gov. Scott Walker signed off on the proposal in September, leaving the proposal in the DNR board’s hands. DNR spokesman James Dick in an email to The Associated Press on Monday called the board vote a “very preliminary step” and insisted a hunt wasn’t imminent. He cautioned that the agency would have to consider a number of scientific factors before implementing a hunt, including the number of male and female elk to ensure reproduction continues, the animals’ ages and their distribution.
Elk once ranged across Wisconsin before hunters wiped them out in the mid- to late-19th century. The DNR has been working to re-establish elk in the state since the mid-1990s, when the agency imported 25 elk from Michigan to start the Clam Lake herd.